Son says 90-year-old dad’s wetsuit was to keep him warm, stop him taking off his diaper

A man told his elderly father’s social worker he would put him in a wetsuit at night to keep him warm and prevent him from taking his diaper off, a court heard.

The man’s son and his girlfriend are on trial in Christchurch District Court before Judge Mark Callaghan. The couple are appealing the judge’s decision not to have their names removed to the High Court. The old man has since died.

They face two charges of neglecting a vulnerable adult. The first relates to the living conditions and the second relates to his alleged failure to fill a prescription for the man’s antibiotics in a timely manner and then failing to provide him with the correct amount of medication.

The son also faces 32 charges of theft by someone with a special relationship, with police alleging he took around $275,000 from the elderly man’s bank account.

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He also faces a fraud charge and an assault charge.

On Thursday the court heard from the elderly man’s social worker, employed by the Canterbury District Health Board.

The social worker, whose name has been withheld, told the court of a visit to the couple’s home in June 2018 after the elderly man was hospitalized.

Prior to the visit, she was told that the daughter, who had power of attorney over her father’s welfare, was sending him to a nursing home for several days before sending him to another.

The woman entered the man’s room and the son told her that there was no doorknob inside the room to prevent him from going out for his own safety.

He said there was a rug in the room that when the old man stood on it, an alarm went off on his phone. The alarm didn’t stop until he went to check it.

A large sheet outside the window served to block out the sunlight so he wouldn’t be disturbed when he got up early. He said he was able to control light and heat from outside the room.

The social worker said the room smelled of feces. The son showed him videos of the man urinating on the floor, with feces on the bed. He said they put talcum powder on his body and put him in a wetsuit, so they could make sure he was warm and couldn’t take the diapers off.

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Experts say we will need to build sidewalks differently, increase the time traffic lights allow pedestrians to cross, make bus travel more comfortable and offer better protection against elder abuse. (First published October 2019)

“He said it was a good way to handle it.”

The camera in the room was there to see what his father was up to and make sure he was safe, he said.

Even though she had “question marks” on everything she saw, she thought that in the short term it was better for him to stay there instead of having to move three times as his daughter suggested.

She then told the son what his sister had planned, which was against the practice as the sister was the proxy for the elderly man’s welfare.

She told the court on Thursday that she felt ‘very uncomfortable’ when she left, and although she trusted the son ‘more than I should have’, she told what happened had happened to the psychiatrist on duty.

The next morning there was a meeting with his colleagues. She was immediately removed from the case as they believed she had taken the son’s side and was no longer impartial as she had informed the son of the sister’s plans. He was also advised to contact CDHB’s corporate lawyer.

She was no longer involved in the case.

Under cross-examination by the man’s lawyer, Clayton Williams, she said she believed the actions taken by the couple were ‘unusual’ and not ‘best practice’, but feared he was very likely to die if it should be moved because the girl had asked.

Under cross-examination by the partner’s lawyer, Nicola Hansen, the social worker said there had been an independent review of the file and a hiring process in the care of the elderly man.

She was criticized in the review for informing the son of his sister’s wish to move their father to a nursing home.

Hansen asked her if she felt the CDHB was scapegoating her. She has accepted.

The review criticized the note-taking of several staff members, she said.

Judge Callaghan asked the social worker for her perspective on someone being locked in a room for up to 4pm straight.

She said it was “totally unacceptable”.

The elderly man and his wife were referred to the social worker in December 2017 as their health was believed to be “compromised” due to a conflict between their children.

During his first home visit, the man’s wife told him that she found the situation “very difficult”.

She felt dependent on her son, because he had said he would leave if the parents allowed their daughter to come home, and that he would no longer take care of them.

She also told the social worker that her son offered to do EQC repairs and wanted about $25,000 a year to be the project manager.

On May 4, 2018, the social worker noted in her notes that she did not trust the man’s son with finances.

“I have publicly stated that there may be emotional and financial abuse by the son.”

After the death of the old man’s wife, the daughter wanted her father to go to a nursing home, as it also meant that she could see him as often as she wanted. However, the son wanted to keep him at home in his “own environment”.

A new arrangement was made and the son took his father to see his daughter once a fortnight.

Around the same time, the daughter raised concerns about her brother’s “neglect” of their father. The social worker said she would look into the matter, but none of the agencies reported a problem.

The girl ended up asking for a full-time social worker because she only worked two days a week.

The social worker said a referral was made in March 2019, but not picked up until October 2019.

In the months that followed, the son sent the social worker photos of him and his father going on trips and other outings, including visiting his partner’s house.

The social worker said she then began to “warm up” with the son.

Earlier Thursday, when cross-examining Detective Brent Menzies, the woman’s attorney, Nicola Hansen, said the 18 hours of footage police had analyzed was a “little snapshot”.

She said the conditions in the room had been “confusing”. She said footage showed the man’s curtains open, another clip showed the man turning on the light.

Hansen asked Menzies if he would accept that the police had “willful blindness” in describing the play. He said no”.

On Wednesday it was revealed that there was light coming from a second bedroom window. Menzies said he did not look behind the curtain and no check was made on the wall the window was on.

The police allegation of natural light tied to the bedroom’s main window, he said.

It was revealed earlier that while police initially said the heating was off when officers searched the house, they hadn’t actually checked it.

“It looks like there was a lot of speculation in this case,” Hansen told Menzies.

Hansen also disputed the police summary of facts, which alleged the elderly man had to urinate into a plastic bag or container. Hansen showed photos of a urinal designed for people with reduced mobility purchased from nurse Maude.

Hansen said police chose to describe it as a plastic container instead of a urinal.

Under re-examination by police prosecutor Penny Brown, Menzies said in a clip that he saw the elderly man urinating into a plastic bag.

Menzies said there was a “noticeable change” in the conditions in the room. The couple’s behavior towards the man was ‘varied throughout’. Sometimes they treated him well and put him to bed. However, there were also times when they were “not so nice”.

The trial continues Friday.

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