27 Feb 2019

Nicky Stevens' family want DHB to cover costs of legal fees

8:47 pm on 27 February 2019

The family of the man who took his own life after walking out of a mental health unit wants the Waikato DHB to pay their legal fees after it challenged the coroners findings.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch.

Dave Macpherson and Jane Stevens holding up a photo of Nicky Stevens. Photo: Supplied / Jane Stevens

Nicky Stevens, who was 21 years old, walked out of the Waikato District Health Board mental health unit in March 2015.

His body was found in the Waikato River three days later.

Coroner Wallace Bain ruled late last year that the death was a preventable suicide.

He found the treatment Mr Stevens received from the DHB fell short of what he and his parents would have expected.

Mr Stevens' mother, Jane Stevens, said the family met with the DHB after the findings were released, to discuss compensation and an apology.

She said the DHB had come to their family home and she had felt like they were acting in good faith.

But in January the DHB wrote to the family saying the DHB's insurer raised considerable procedural concerns about the coroner's findings with the solicitor general.

At a meeting today, Mr Stevens parents Jane Stevens and Dave MacPherson presented their plea to the board.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch.

Nicky Stevens Photo: Supplied / Jane Stephens

Initially the DHB denied them their request to speak at the meeting but the couple turned up regardless and were given time.

Ms Stevens told the DHB there had already been an immense financial and emotional toll on the family and a new inquest, with its associated costs, would be devastating.

"They have actually instructed us to communicate with them via legal representation," she said.

It was only fair the DHB covered the costs, especially as the family was yet to see any compensation, she said.

"The DHB has tax payer money and insurer company money to pay QCs and lawyers to run their cases for them, for however long it takes.

"We just don't have that."

Ms Stevens said the DHB needed to realise what impact this had on the family.

"They came and sat at my dinner table, they said they wanted to work with us honourably and fairly, they wanted to work quickly, they seemed to accept the coroner's findings and now they have done a complete turn around.

"It's left us gobsmacked."

Ms Stevens said she believed the DHB's change of tune was either about money, a culture of denial or not wanting to set a precedent in regard to their patients and whānau.

"None of those are acceptable.

"Part of this for us, is about changing the way families are treated when they have to go through these absolutely awful processes, over years."

She said the DHB needed to adhere to its own values of fairness and listening to whānau.

The last time the family applied for legal costs, the DHB told her there was no precedent and they weren't going to set one, she said.

"I know families who have lost their homes, their jobs, their health.

"Why should the taxpayers money be used to defend themselves, when families have no support?"

Ms Stevens said the DHB had not yet responded to their request.

The family has contacted the prime minister, the minister of health and the minister of justice for assistance but none have yet offered an audience.

The DHB has been approached for comment.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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