18 Nov 2019

Complaints system for retirement care failing - Consumer NZ

5:37 pm on 18 November 2019

Consumer NZ says a woman who is unhappy with the way her mother was moved from a retirement home to hospital care shows the current complaints system is failing.

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Margaret Brown during her time at Julia Wallace Ryman retirement home in Palmerston North. Photo: Supplied / Sue Brown

Margaret Brown lived in her Palmerston North Julia Wallace Ryman serviced apartment for six years before being assessed as needing hospital-level care. However there was no room at Ryman's hospital wing, so she was forced to move indefinitely to Palmerston North Hospital.

Her daughter, Sue Brown, said the whole ordeal traumatised her mum and should not have been allowed.

After her mother died in April 2017, Ms Brown decided to formally complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC), filing four separate complaints over her mother's care, the transition process and lack of communication. The complaints were all responded to under one case number, with much of the specific detail unanswered.

The Deputy Commissioner found there had not been any breaches of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights, though there had been deficiencies in Mrs Brown's care, and asked Ryman to apologise.

In Deputy Commissioner Rose Wall's final decision to Ms Brown she said she was concerned there were differing recollections of events between Ms Brown and Ryman, but that further assessment was unlikely to clarify things.

Consumer NZ head of research Jessica Wilson said it shows the current complaints system is failing.

"There are a couple of issues here, one is the length of time it took Sue to get a response to her complaint - about a year and that's unfortunately not uncommon.

"The other big issue here was that many of the issues raised weren't fully investigated. The Office of the HDC came to the view that they were getting differing versions of events from the parties involved and chose not to investigate further.

"That's not what you want from an investigative complaints process, you want those issues looked at, not put in the too-hard basket."

Ms Wilson said she was surprised the HDC did not find any breaches of the Code.

"There were evident failings in care, which the home apologised for and which the HDC acknowledged, so it's surprising it wasn't taken further."

She said sanctions on care homes should be tougher.

"Whether that's a financial penalty or some other imposition that's placed on it, that really recognises that it hasn't done its job, that it's failed to provide the care it should have done."

She agreed with Ms Brown there should be greater transparency around feedback on rest homes.

"Many of the complaints that are made against rest homes are not published, so there does need to be a lot more transparency for consumers.

"We've been calling for some time on an overhaul of the monitoring of rest homes and also the complaints processes, the issues we're seeing are coming up time and time again."

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