Fending for himself as care visits missed

Piotr Mierzejewski is concerned about aspects of his home support service. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Piotr Mierzejewski is concerned about aspects of his home support service. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A disabled Dunedin man says he was left to fend for himself when his support agency did not send a reliever to cover a carer's illness.

Piotr Mierzejewski (37) has arthrogryposis multiplex and is in a wheelchair. He had to call on family and friends to help him one Saturday last month, when Access Homehealth did not send a carer for three of the four daily visits.

''If it weren't for the help, I would be stuck essentially. I would be the equivalent of a beached whale.

''I was a little bit flabbergasted ... finally someone turned up [from Access] about 20 past 7 [at night].

''I had to basically fend for myself.''

He said he was lucky to have a strong support network of family and friends, but he did not think they should be called upon, especially at short notice. He was concerned about vulnerable clients who did not have a strong network of people.

The service allowed Mr Mierzejewski to live independently and hold down a part-time job in the energy sector. His disability affected him around the clock - not just during business hours - and service quality should not deteriorate at weekends.

Mr Mierzejewski believed the service changed when Dunedin Home Support Services, his old provider, was bought by Access. Last month was not the first time a visit had been missed since the provider change about a year ago.

''Every time I hear that one of my helpers is going to be sick, or they're going to be away, I'm expecting the next shoe to drop.''

He no longer dealt solely with Dunedin-based staff; sometimes phone calls went to other centres.

Some pastoral care elements of the service changed; senior staff formerly gave advice about relationships and other matters, but now the system was more impersonal.

He had also discovered his case notes contained incorrect information.

Mr Mierzejewski has complained in writing to Access.

Responding to the Otago Daily Times, Access chief executive Graeme Titcombe said support worker illness could cause difficulties, especially at weekends.

''This would be compounded where multiple visits are due on the same day, thereby substantially limiting the time available to find suitable relief workers.

''In such an instance our highest priority is the ongoing safety of the clients. Where a delay in putting in a relief worker is indicated, we liaise with the client in regard to natural supports available [family and friends].

''If such natural supports are not available, and if client safety is at risk, we would utilise other emergency procedures [such as] emergency nursing staff.''

The telephone system defaulted to another centre when Dunedin co-ordinators were on calls, Mr Titcombe said. After hours, including weekends, calls went to a national call centre.

''Should clients not want to take advantage of these features and only liaise directly with the Dunedin office, direct dial numbers are made available,'' he said.

Access would respond directly to Mr Mierzejewski about the specifics of his complaint, Mr Titcombe said.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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