One of Australia's most high-profile providers of disability services, Lifestyle Solutions, is under review by both the Victorian Government and the NSW Ombudsman after a series of deaths of its clients and other alarming reports about the abuse and neglect of some disabled people in its care.
Failings were identified after four patient deaths
In one incident, a woman who had her legs amputated was left alone overnight and had no way to seek help
Victorian Government cancelled contract with Lifestyle Solutions after complaints
The Newcastle-based not-for-profit organisation earned revenues last year of more than $124 million — almost all of it from taxpayers — to care for 1,200 disabled adults and 300 foster children across the country.
It was a broadcast sponsor of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
Now, a Four Corners investigation has found that in many cases the care provided by Lifestyle Solutions has been profoundly inadequate.
Interviews conducted by the program paint a picture of an organisation which has spent much of the past decade lurching from crisis to crisis, with several of its clients experiencing significant harm as a result of poor care.
Some adults and children with disabilities in its accommodation have suffered physical and sexual assault, and others have been hospitalised as a result of serious medication errors.
In one case, thousands of dollars belonging to disabled clients was stolen by a rogue employee, and in another, the organisation so badly mishandled an investigation into a 2012 assault perpetrated by a member of staff that it prevented the NSW Police from potentially charging the offender.
Failures identified in relation to four deaths
Deputy NSW Ombudsman Steve Kinmond said the organisation's conduct had been deeply concerning.
"We saw enough evidence of significant matters that should not have taken place … to draw a line in the sand," Mr Kinmond said.
His office has now demanded sweeping reforms of the organisation.
In 2014 alone, in just the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region of NSW, four of Lifestyle Solutions clients died amidst practice failures which were later identified.
A fifth death, in March last year, of a man suspected to have overdosed on prescription medication inside a Lifestyle Solutions home in Goulburn NSW will be the subject of an upcoming inquest by the NSW coroner.
Key records went missing after patient's death
The NSW Ombudsman has already found that the death in November 2014 of one of those clients — Julie Jacobson — was potentially preventable.
The 51-year-old woman was morbidly obese and had lost both her legs to amputation, yet Lifestyle Solutions had taken away her overnight care, meaning she had no way to visit the bathroom or seek help for other needs. She died during the night of a heart-attack.
Mr Kinmond said there had been a "range of weaknesses" in her care, which "included the failure, more generally, to recognise that this client had very significant health challenges which, if they weren't appropriately addressed … there was a risk of death."
"I believe that it's appropriate in terms of my role, to make the judgement call that the practices [with respect to Ms Jacobson's care] were clearly unacceptable," he said.
Alarmingly, Four Corners has established that in the days after her death, amidst a flurry of internal panic about what had occurred, critical records — which documented failures in the organisation's care for Ms Jacobson — suddenly went missing.
Insiders who spoke to Four Corners on the condition of anonymity said a formal inquiry was conducted by the organisation's own investigators into what happened to the files, before finally a set of documents was handed over to the authorities.
Mr Kinmond said when the documents concerning Ms Jacobson's care finally arrived in his office there were a set of progress notes missing— Lifestyle Solutions told him it could not locate them.
He said that the documentation he was given was, in any case, evidence of "very significant shortcomings in practice".
"One of the concerns that I had in the middle of last year, which caused me to escalate this matter, was the fact that we were, on occasions, receiving a lack of information in relation to critical issues," he told Four Corners.
Lifestyle Solutions did not answer questions put to it by the program regarding the provenance of the records it produced.
Managers left amid internal investigations
Last year at least six senior managers and directors departed Lifestyle Solutions following a series of internal inquiries into complaints about the practices of the organisation.
One inquiry examined the circumstances which led to the placement — against internal advice — of a high-risk 13-year-old boy into a western Sydney home who went on to sexually abuse one of his fellow residents.
Former employee Milissa Christian told Four Corners that it was just one example of young people in the care of the organisation who have been "physically harmed".
"They've lived in what I would describe as a domestic violence situation in services," she said.
A 2015 video obtained by Four Corners shows another violent attack inside one of their homes in western Sydney; the video shows a disabled teenager being choked by another client until he loses consciousness and begins having a seizure.
Victorian Government says contract revoked after complaints
Earlier this year, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services revoked a contract with Lifestyle Solutions for the management of one of its three disability group homes in that state, and is now conducting a wider review into the non-profit group.
Martin Foley, the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, said: "We've had complaints and we've acted on them".
"In terms of a response to that, that is why the kind of action that we've taken in taking administration of particular facilities off that group has been rolled out," Mr Foley told the program.
Late this afternoon Lifestyle Solutions contacted the program to say that the organisation chose to relinquish the contract in question, producing a letter to DHHS which suggested the decision was made after multiple complaints by a Lifestyle Solutions client.
Mr Foley confirmed that in Victoria its clients had experienced physical harm.
There has been repeated instances of insufficient monitoring that has allowed very vulnerable people to go missing from their homes, including in two serious cases in 2009.
In one, a profoundly disabled 40-year-old woman disappeared unnoticed during the night from a temporary accommodation facility in a wilderness area in the NSW Hunter Valley, tumbled over a series of cliffs at a 450-metre-high lookout, and was rescued by helicopter the following day.
In the other, a 10-year-old girl was killed by a car outside Rockhampton, Queensland, after running away one night from her group home where she had been subjected to repeated violence.
In January this year, by sheer luck, NSW Police found two highly autistic teenage boys at 5:00 one morning who were lost, wandering along an unlit main road in western Sydney — one of them was found about 6 kilometres from the Lifestyle Solutions group home where they lived.
The carers were unaware the boys had gone missing.
Overdose death to be investigated by coroner
In March last year a 35-year-old intellectually disabled man, David Veech, died in a Lifestyle Solutions home in Goulburn NSW of a suspected drug overdose.
The exact circumstances leading up to his death is to be established by a coronial inquest scheduled for late this year or early next.
After being released on parole after a long jail term for serious assault, and despite being known to be a significant abuser of drugs, Four Corners has been told there are concerns Lifestyle Solutions may not have properly restricted his access to prescription drugs on the premises.
A spokesman for the NSW Coroner said "care and treatment issues will certainly be explored at inquest".
In a statement, Andrew Hyland, Lifestyle Solution's newly-appointed chief executive, said his staff "do very good work" with "some of the most complex and challenging matters".
He said that where past investigations had identified shortcomings, "the findings have informed improvements in our policies and procedures".
In 2012, a Newcastle Lifestyle Solutions employee, Kim Craig, was convicted of stealing $11,000 from disabled clients living in the organisation's group homes.
Lifestyle Solution's previous boss and founder, David Hogg, also resigned midway through last year. In December, the NSW Police charged Mr Hogg with the sexual assault of a 16-year-old woman in 1988, a charge his lawyer says he will "vigorously" defend.
The story will air on Four Corners, 8.30pm tonight on ABC TV.
Source : http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-27/disability-service-provider-investigated-over-deaths/8388050?pfmredir=sm