Thursday, September 1, 2011

When society doesn't care

Today, in Wellington, an 88 year old man was found dead in his council flat and it is believed he had been dead for over a year.

Let that sink in for a minute.

For a WHOLE YEAR a man lay dead in his council flat and NO ONE noticed?! How does that happen? I work in Aged Care and so when I hear about cases like this, I take it personally. I get angry, I rant and I rave. And then I wonder WHY? And today I got my answer from reading through some facts that I would like to share with you.

1. The Wellington City Council is meant to check on it's elderly residents once a year. Even if this procedure was followed (which it wasn't) how is once a year a reasonable amount of time between visits to people who are vulnerable and when it is known that they have no family? And the only time they go around outside of this yearly check? When they haven't paid their bills. Now while the caring part of me would like to believe this is because it could be an indicator that something is wrong, the realistic part of me knows that it's purely financially driven.

2. This has happened before, not once but several times before. According to the Dominion Post, in 1999, Wellington police called for the council to check regularly on tenants after several cases in which the bodies of elderly people were not discovered for some time. So in 12 years, there has not been a review of the policy? This has happened several times and the council is not taking responsibility for the welfare of those who live in their flats, even when the police recommended it?

3. Mr Clarke (the 88 year old man in question) had lived in his flat for 30 years. How did no one in that complex notice he had not been to his mail box to collect his mail, or been seen pottering to the grocery store or noticed he hadn't opened his curtains for a year? While the council is at fault, I am astounded that none of his neighbours noticed he hadn't been out of his flat for a year. Did they not know he even existed?

So why did no one notice this poor man was dead until a year later? Because we just don't care about each other. Wellington City Council doesn't care about your well being until you stop paying your bills or your yearly visit is due. Your neighbours may not even notice if you don't open your curtains or collect your mail for a year. We are a society of people that are so insular that we have forgotten to watch out for each other.

We can hide behind the idea that people don't want to be bothered by busy bodies making sure they are okay, but consider the alternative. I would rather have someone call me once a week to check I was okay than be found dead after a year. It is not an 'unnecessary intrusion', as was described by Wellington City Council Social Portfolio Leader Stephanie Cook. And how long does a phone call really take? Considering that these people have paid taxes, the least we can do is call them to make sure they are okay.

Those were my recommendations for us as neighbours. Here is my recommendation for Wellington City Council.

Review your policy. A year is an insult. You have been told by the police and the several dead bodies found long after death that this needs to happen and you have ignored it. Either you are lazy or you don't care. Take your pick. But don't you dare let one more person die in your flats only to remain there unknown for months. And Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, this is not just 'very sad'. It is a travesty. And it is one you need to make sure never happens again.

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