Coroner keen to examine claims

CORONER Mark Johns is willing to reopen old death cases at the Oakden aged care facility if families present fresh evidence – and the State Government stumps up the necessary cash.

Principal community visitor Maurice Corcoran has raised new fears about several sudden deaths at Oakden, saying the harrowing findings of Chief Psychiatrist Aaron Groves’ cast new suspicion over historic cases.

Mr Johns has announced he will investigate a suspected murder in 2008 in which the accused died before possible trial.

A spokeswoman for Mr Johns said the Coroner had investigated Oakden cases over the past decade which were reported to him under state law. Legislation requires the Coroner be notified of deaths of an unusually violent, unnatural or mystery cause.

Alerts must also be made when death is within 24 hours of certain medical procedures or has occurred in a mental health facility.

Confirming Mr Johns was aware of the contents of Dr Groves’ report, the spokeswoman said: “He has investigated deaths at Oakden over the years if they were reported to him.” “As in any coronial case, where next of kin or others had raised particular concerns about the circumstances of the death, those concerns are considered as part of the coronial process.

She said: “If there are closed coronial cases where families have specific concerns that were not raised at the time, the Coroner is prepared to consider reviewing those cases, subject to the extent of resources available to him. “The Coroner is not resourced to review all the closed cases. Nor is he resourced to review cases that were not mandatory reportable deaths.”

The State Government yesterday came under fire over revelations three major coronial inquests have stalled because of a lack of funding and despite a plea five months ago to Attorney-General John Rau. A fourth inquiry into the death of a worker at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital site is also under threat from underresourcing even though Premier Jay Weatherill is publicly supporting it.

The family of Ermanno Serpo, who spent three years at Oakden’s mental health facility, was still waiting for a coroner’s report 12-months after his death on April 24, 2016. They wanted to know whether ill-treatment from staff contributed to his hospitalisation and death from an effusion of the lung.

“My dad had witnessed falls in the week leading up to his death and we want to know whether they were all put in his records,” Mr Serpo’s daughter, Alma Krecu, said. “The Government, without a shadow of a doubt, should be able to give the Coroner’s Office more resources.”

Reports to the Coroner are typically made by a doctor or police officer. After Dr Groves’ report, eight Oakden staff were stood down and 21 reported to a national regulator over concerns about poor care. On Wednesday, police said no action would be taken on three cases referred to them.

Opposition health spokesman Stephen Wade said Dr Groves’ report highlighted the fact Oakden staff failed to comply with their mandatory notification requirements. “We can have no confidence that staff or management were complying with their legal duties to report deaths to the Coroner under the Coroner’s Act,” Mr Wade said. “There needs to be a full clinical audit of deaths at Oakden over the past decade or more to establish whether cases should be reported to the Coroner.

Dignity Party MP Kelly Vincent raised concerns about SA Health’s “flimsy recruitment processes” of aged care workers after it emerged a 99year-old dementia patient at Oakden was sexually assaulted by a male carer in July 2011. The carer, a former police officer medically discharged from the force in 2005 and who reportedly had a history of mental health issues, was found guilty of aggravated indecent assault. Ms Vincent said it appeared the man had a history of “repeated concerns”.