A Melbourne nursing home covered up the death of one of its residents then fired a whistleblower carer, a coroner says.
Caterina Montalto stumbled and fell into a fountain in a courtyard at the Arcare Hampstead aged-care facility in Maidstone, where she lived in the dementia unit, in May 2011.
The 76-year-old’s body was not discovered for 50 minutes and her death was not reported to the coroner.
Her family was told she was found in the courtyard and died from a heart attack.
Her doctor, Liliana Elberg, was also told Mrs Montalto was found next to the courtyard fountain.
But CCTV footage showed that Mrs Montalto stumbled, fell and was immersed in water.
Coroner Heather Spooner said accounts from some of the Arcare staff were competing, inconsistent, sometimes unedifying and in one case “verged on the absurd”.
She said Mrs Montalto had been moved from the fountain to her room where she was dried and changed into fresh clothes before the family arrived.
The death of Ms Montalto was complicated by breaches of policy and procedure, she said.
“Indeed the actions of some staff amounted to little more than a cover-up with Dr Elberg being called to attend the facility and certify the death of her patient without being fully informed by staff of all that had actually occurred,” Ms Spooner said.
“It was only as a result of the courageous act of a young carer speaking up to her union that the unusual reportable circumstances surrounding the demise of Mrs Montalto were uncovered.”
Whistleblower Susan Mutami first saw Mrs Montalto from an upstairs window of the facility and later spoke out to her union about the incident, but was fired by facility manager Catherine Condon.
“She was sacked by Ms Condon on the basis that her probationary period had proven unsuccessful; in effect for an alleged breach of confidentiality in speaking up regarding the truth about the death,” Ms Spooner said.
Arcare Victoria state manager John Moore said in a statement that established processes were not followed on the day.
He said rather than blame individuals the company had reviewed and improved its structure.