Two disabled Indigenous woman have died in similar circumstances while staying at the same NSW Government run care facility and now one of the families is calling for a coronial inquest after the coroner found failings at the care home and the hospital involved in one of the cases.
Melanie Margaret Nean Cutmore was 33-years-old when she died in February last year at Campbelltown Hospital after being taken in for x-rays due to swollen feet and “increasing agitation” according to an autopsy report obtained by NITV News.
Melanie who was being cared for at the Plane Trees Group Home in Narellan was admitted to hospital on February 3 last year and died on February 14 from aspiration pneumonia according to the report which listed her cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia as underlying causes.
The autopsy concluded she developed aspiration pneumonia in her lungs due to vomiting after being admitted, however it also found “some pneumonic element was present prior to admission”.
In December last year the NSW Coroner handed down a highly critical report in to the treatment of Shona Hookey, another disabled Indigenous woman who died at Campbelltown hospital in 2013, two and a half years before Melanie.
NSW deputy coroner Hugh Dillon found that the care Shona received at Plane Trees was inadequate and that her carers “failed to respond as they should have” and that “Their training appears to have failed them.”
“it may also be that, due to years of exposure to ‘behavioural problems’ on the part of residents in group homes, these two workers had effectively become desensitised to the potential significance of such behaviours and, perhaps, to signs of physical distress and suffering,” he said.
Melanie’s mother Michelle Nean said staff at Plane Trees had not informed her of the death of Shona Hookey and said had she known she would never had allowed her daughter to be treated at Campbelltown hospital where Shona also died.
“To go from swollen feet to the next minute saying she had pneumonia, there were a lot of obstacles to go through, and to me, they didn’t investigate where the pain and problems were coming from,” she told NITV News.
“If I had known about Shona’s death I wouldn’t have left her there. They knew I had concerns about the hospital already but didn’t inform me of Shona and if I had I would have pushed for more help.”
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Family and Community Services said they were saddened at the death of Melanie but an internal investigation have uncovered no issues with her care
“An internal review of Ms Cutmore’s death was undertaken at the time and this information was provided to the NSW Ombudsman,” the spokesman said in a statement.
“The review found no untoward findings in relation to the Plane Tree group home. In addition, the NSW Coroner has dispensed with holding an inquest into this matter.”
Campbelltown Hospital General Manager Alison Derrett told NITV News in a statement that there had been no concerns about Melanie’s care at the hospital at the time she died.
“There are no concerns around the care Ms Cutmore received at Campbelltown Hospital, which is part of the SWS LHD, therefore there was no need for an internal investigation,” she said.
A 2015 federal senate inquiry into the care sector called for a royal commission into disability care.
Ms Nean has called on the NSW Coroner to investigate Melanie’s death and her care at both Campbelltown Hospital and the Plane Trees care home and has contacted the NSW Coroner urging they re-examine the case.
“I'm angry and mortified about all this,” she said. “This year was about getting answers about Melanie cause as a mother my intuition and gut feeling all this time told me something was not right and I want answers whether they did do the right thing by Melanie”.
A spokesman for the NSW Coroner told NITV had previously decided not to hold an inquest into Melanie’s death based on the conclusions of her autopsy and the listed causes of death.