Family wants answers after granny left to ‘rot to death’
A Queensland aged care facility and a GP are being investigated after the family of an elderly woman revealed shocking details of how their grandmother died in a pool of her own body fluids and sepsis had rotted her leg to the bone.
Norma Palmer, 89, died after being rushed to hospital from Regis Birkdale, the aged care facility she had moved into 10 months before.
A visiting enrolled nurse to Regis found the skin on Mrs Palmer's left leg had rotted through to the bone and the skin on her back reddened and bleeding, burned from lying in urine.
The enrolled nurse, from Care Pact, a wound care speciality service, called for immediate and urgent hospital treatment.
Mrs Palmer was taken first to nearby Redland Hospital, then to QEII Hospital before dying three days later at Princess Alexandra Hospital.
Now Mrs Palmer's Wellington Point family wants answers over the death of their grandmother in the wake of a coroner's report criticising her care by a GP and her bayside aged care home.
The coroner found Mrs Palmer's death in July last year was a health care related death reportable under the Coroner's Act.
Coroner Don Buchanan called for Regis Birkdale to conduct a clinical review of its practices along with the general practitioner who was overseeing Mrs Palmer's wound treatment.
Findings from those two reports are with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which released preliminary details from Regis identifying "multiple and significant gaps" in Mrs Palmer's care.
The coroner's report, based on findings from the Clinical Forensic Medicine Unit, said there were "multiple concerns" with Mrs Palmer's GP, who had failed to act when her blood haemoglobin and potassium readings fell to critical levels.
Mr Buchanan also said there was no evidence of an ordered CT scan being performed.
However, he found the rotting leg wound the most concerning.
The family took graphic photographs of Mrs Palmer's leg just before she died.
They show a gaping blackened wound with yellowing skin exposing Mrs Palmer's ankle bone.
The report said the GP had not adhered to "the basic cares", such as good nutrition, the use of compression garments or controlling diabetes.
"The failure to appropriately manage the lower limb ulcer has contributed to the death of Mrs Palmer," the report said.
"I have no concerns regarding he care provided by the Princess Alexandra Hospital, QEII Hospital or the Redland Hospital.
"The care provided by the residential aged care facility to Mrs Palmer was consistent with GP advice and wound care management plans, but with inadequate escalation of concerns in May to July.
"It would seem the staff were concerned but this was only ever escalated to the GP, and as a result, no one became involved in Mrs Palmer's care until July 15 (three days before she died), at the time of the Care Pact review."
Mr Buchanan said staff had highlighted their concerns about Mrs Palmer's wounds in multiple chart entries and communications with the GP, including a request for a referral to a wound specialist in May, two months before she died.
It is the second Regis aged care facility to come under scrutiny by the federal aged care regulator.
In February, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission found there was an "immediate and severe risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of residents" at Regis Nedland in Western Australia.
It was the second such finding in 14 months and followed allegations of neglect from two families.
Granddaughter Alana Hewett said she believed her grandmother's final days were spent in agony with no pain relief administered.
She said the death came as a shock to the family, who live close to the aged care home and visited regularly.
The family was advised physiotherapy was included in fees for Mrs Palmer and they also paid an additional $12.50 a day for special healthy meals.
"My grandmother was basically left to rot down to the bone with zero pain relief provided," Ms Hewett said.
"There were restrictions on the number of people who could visit because of COVID but when I was able to get in to see her, I did not look under the covers at her leg, which was completely covered in bandages.
"She was not one to complain but something has to be done to make sure this never happens again.
"This aged care centre failed my grandmother and robbed her of any dignity she may have had in her final moments of life.
"She was 89 years old, very sharp, walking with a wheelie walker and talking when she went to live there and was happily planning her 90th birthday, which would have been last month.
"In less than a year at that centre, she had died because they managed to completely neglect her which led to sepsis - just a day after they finally decided to call an ambulance and not tell the family, even though we live five minutes away.
"The nurses and doctors at the hospital she was taken to were holding back tears as they had never seen anything like this in their careers."
Ms Hewett alleged that while her grandmother was in hospital, personal items of jewellery and clothing allegedly went missing from her Regis Birkdale room.
She said when other members of the family went to the aged care home to pick up Mrs Palmer's belongings a week after her death, clothing drenched in bodily fluids was still left on the floor of the room.
The GP was referred to Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, which has not taken any action over the doctor.
Regis communications manager Kate Tyrrell said the case remained open with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission within the complex resolution team.
She said Regis would not provide information about individual residents, families or employees.
"We are committed to working with the commission to resolve this case and understand any actions for improvement," she said.
"In line with Regis' ongoing commitment to open disclosure and quality improvement, we will transparently and openly share the investigation process and outcome with the commission and the family."
Originally published as Family wants answers after granny left to 'rot to death' in aged home