Death in a recliner chair: No working stove, washing machine, rats in home where man died, jury hears

Healthcare New Zealand (NZ) did not report that the Auckland home where a “complex” client died had rats, no washing machine and no working stove or microwave, a jury has heard.

A former branch manager said she was “confident” the conditions would have been reported if spotted by a visiting worker, while giving evidence at a manslaughter trial for the client’s wife.

The service provider visited the Māngere house where Lanitola Epenisa was later found dead from infected sores all over his body in October 2016. His wife and sole carer Malia Li allegedly caused his death through “gross negligence”.

The family were living in a home owned by Li’s relative.

Former Healthcare NZ employee Nancy Chapman confirmed it would be “concerning” if a client’s toilet and shower were not checked at an appointment, during cross examination by Li’s lawyer Mark Ryan.

“I would expect staff to check shower facilities and whether any equipment required for safe showering,” she told the jury.

Ryan said there were 15 people living at the address.

“There were rats running all over the address. There was no washing machine, no dryer to dry clothes and no stove or oven that operated. Is that consistent with Healthcare NZ’s service agreement?” Ryan asked Chapman.

“If a service co-ordinator had observed rats running around or any health and safety issue that impacted on the family, I’m confident they would have reported that back,” Chapman replied.

“Not having a washing machine or dryer to be fair wouldn’t necessarily be considered a health and safety standard but certainly if there were rats or anything like that I would expect that to be reported.”

Epenisa suffered from a myriad of health issues, the courtroom heard.

Timeline of Epenisa's care

Epenisa became a Healthcare NZ client in February 2015 after being discharged from hospital following a stroke. A service plan written up at this time included assisting Epenisa with showering, toileting and walking around the house.

Two support workers were arranged to visit Epenisa but the family contacted Healthcare NZ to say they were not comfortable with that.

External support was withdrawn while the family looked to provide a nominated carer.

No nominated carer was reported to Healthcare NZ, despite two efforts to communicate with Li.

In January 2016 an employee visited the home where Epenisa lived to set up a care plan.

At this appointment Li allegedly lied about her and Epenisa separating in order to receive payment from Healthcare NZ for being his carer.

An agreement where Li would be paid for the care of Epenisa came into force on January 29, 2016.

In April, Healthcare NZ was notified by Taikura Trust to stop services as there were “questions” around whether Li was living at the address or not.

“Alternative care was offered, pending Taikura coming back to approve it.”

The mistake was realised and payments were terminated in June 2016.

Epenisa died from sepsis in the night between October 1 and 2, 2016.

Li is accused of failing to provide Epenisa with food, water, hygiene and medical care between January and October 2016. He suffered two strokes and eventually became immobile and could not speak.

Li was previously a Healthcare NZ worker and had obtained a level two NZQA certificate in care training.

Li is on trial for manslaughter at the High Court in Auckland.

The trial has been set down for six weeks.

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