Hundreds of people have tuned into a live broadcast event honouring Ann Marie Smith, an Adelaide woman who had a disability and who died last month after allegedly being left in a cane chair for up to a year.
- The online vigil was organised by disability advocacy groups and individuals
- Ms Smith, who had cerebral palsy, died after allegedly being left in a cane chair for up to a year
- Paralympian Katrina Webb, who also has cerebral palsy, hosted the event
The A Minute for Ann Marie vigil was organised online by disability advocacy groups and individuals.
Ms Smith, who had cerebral palsy, died in the Royal Adelaide Hospital last month of profound septic shock, multiple organ failure from severe pressure sores, and was also found to be suffering from malnutrition.
Paralympian Katrina Webb, who also has cerebral palsy, hosted the vigil and urged people to take action.
“Ann Marie was a member of our community and we deeply mourn her loss,” Webb said.
“We’re holding this vigil today to remember Ann Marie and to tell the world we stand against violence, abuse and neglect in all forms.
“We will also use today’s vigil to remember other disabled people who have also died as a result of violence, abuse and neglect.”
Samantha Connor, a disability and human rights activist who fought for the Disability Royal Commission to be enacted, said “nobody in South Australia right now is surprised by the story of Ann Marie”.
“We know this happens to disabled people every day This is why we have a royal commission right now,” she said.
“We have stories and we collect them, and we [see] the same things happen in the same ways.”
Katharine Annear, Mickey O’Brien, Katrina Webb and Amy Blaylock were part of the live broadcast vigil for Ms Smith.
Ms Connor said the problems “boil down to the same sorts of issues” and were not just around service failures, but also loneliness, isolation and ableism.
“Those stories don’t actually have much change between them,” she said.
Ann Marie Smith case timeline
October 2017 Integrity Care fails an SA Government audit.
February 2018 Integrity Care rectifies deficits identified in the audit. The same year, Ann Marie Smith transitions from Disability SA to the NDIS.
April 5, 2020 Ms Smith is taken to hospital by ambulance with septic shock, malnutrition and severe pressure sores.
April 6 Ms Smith dies in hospital.
April 8 An ambulance officer contacts the Office of the Public Advocate with concerns and is advised to report to their manager and police.
April 9 The Ambulance Service confirms SA Health and police have been notified.
April 20 The Office of the Public Advocate reports Ann Marie Smith’s death to the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission.
April 15 Integrity Care applies to the Department of Human Services for a screening check on Rosa Maione for the first time.
April 24 Ms Maione’s screening check is approved.
May 15 Police announce they have launched a manslaughter investigation into Ms Smith’s death.
“We blame things like the NDIS, and we blame things like the disability service providers, and we blame things like loneliness and isolation,” she said.
“But really, there’s a whole bunch of different elements and that’s why people don’t recognise what happens against us as domestic and family violence.”
Ms Connor said developmental, preventative and corrective safeguards all needed to be addressed by both the Disability Royal Commission and society.
She said those safeguards would lead to communities noticing whether disabled people were safe, police checks being carried out regularly and justice being served in cases of abuse or neglect.
She said there was an opportunity for people who did not have disabilities “to understand what isolation and segregation looks like”, due to lived experience through the coronavirus pandemic.
“They’re living the life that so many of us live right now,” she said.
“There’s a real opportunity for people to have an understanding of what our lives look like, and really empathise around that, and to make connections in new ways and to say we need to make everything safe.
“We need to be an interdependent community and we need to keep things safe for disabled people across Australia.”
On Friday, a cane chair, like the one Ms Smith was allegedly left in, day and night, was placed on the steps of South Australia’s Parliament House.
Candles, flowers and a photo of Ms Smith sat beside it.
A cane chair, like the one Ann Marie Smith was allegedly left in, was set up on the steps of South Australia’s Parliament House.(ABC News)
“The manslaughter of Ann Marie Smith fills our community with anger and with grief,” Western Australian Greens senator Jordan Steele-John said in a video message online.
“These feelings are compounded by the knowledge that the terrors she endured, the horrors to which she was subjected, are not unique.
“We as disabled people know that hundreds, if not thousands, of our fellow community members suffered, and still suffer, as Ann Marie did.
“In her name, and in the name of David Harris, and in the name of Willow Dunn, we tonight gather together to remember a life and to recommit ourselves to campaigning relentlessly to ensure that perpetrators of such abuse are held to account; that those who have failed so profoundly are held to account, that justice is done for Ann Marie.”
Independent inquiry to be held
Last week, it was announced a former Federal Court judge would lead an independent inquiry into the adequacy of disability care provided to Ms Smith, who police believe spent up to a year confined to a chair.
Police declared the 54-year-old’s death a major crime and said Ms Smith lived in “disgusting and degrading conditions” for at least a year before she died.
Ann Marie Smith’s home in Bradman Court, Kensington Park.(Supplied: SA Police)
Her sole carer, Rosa Maione has been sacked, while Ms Maione’s employer Integrity Care has been fined for failing to report the death to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Ms Smith was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital on April 5, where she had major surgery to remove rotting flesh from severe pressure sores on her body.
She then went into palliative care and died the next day, Superintendent Des Bray said.
He said Ms Smith lived in a nice home in one of Adelaide’s premier suburbs, describing her death as “tragic”.
“The outside of the house gives no indication as to the horrors that were perhaps occurring within it,” he said.
“Despite living in a nice house, Ann died in disgusting and degrading circumstances.
“This is a tragic case.”