Police not told of death

Last updated 08:42 09/04/2014
Tim Scott
CORONER: Tim Scott.

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The MidCentral District Health Board has apologised for failing to tell authorities of the death of an elderly dementia patient, who died after being pushed headfirst into a wall.

Palmerston North coroner Tim Scott presided over an inquest yesterday into the death of Wimbledon Villa resident Lawrence William Czepanski, 87, in February 2013.

Czepanski died in Palmerston North Hospital three days after a male resident, whose name was suppressed, shoulder-barged him into a wall at the villa's dementia unit.

Detective Shelley Ross said both Palmerston North Hospital and Wimbledon Villa failed to immediately report the death to police and the Coroner's Office.

An investigation began after police received a call about the lack of investigation into the death.

''The Medical Certificate of Death was signed off... with a cause of death of acute subdural haematoma,'' she said.  

''The signing off of Mr Czepanski's death by Palmerston North Hospital meant the death was not referred to the Coroner's Office or the police at a relevant time.

''This certification resulted in unnecessary distress for Mr Czepanski's family who were preparing for his funeral the next day only to have invasive police involvement and a post mortem.''

In a letter presented as evidence, MidCentral District Health Board chief medical officer Kenneth Clark said there was ''no doubt'' Czepandhski's death should have been referred promptly to the coroner.

''This was clearly an error and on behalf of MidCentral Health I apologise to the family of Mr Czepanski and to the Coronial Services.''

Scott said the failure to report the death was ''fundamentally flawed and fundamentally wrong''.

''The hospital is well aware of the protocol but something went wrong,'' he said. 

''I'm satisfied that it has been a wake-up call to the hospital and sadly mistakes do happen.''

Witness Sue Cousins was in the sitting room with her father, Czepanski, and several other residents who were watching television when the incident took place.  

''Lawrence was in his own place, standing up with his Zimmer frame,'' she said.  

 ''He moved towards some pictures on the wall and started to take [them] off the wall and [the other resident] yelled at him. Lawrence didn't seem to comprehend what was going on.

''[The other resident] shouted at the top of his lungs 'Leave it or I'll deal to you'.''

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Cousins said she and her father became very nervous of the resident who her father described as ''a bully boy, he's a bully in the tea room''.

''The image in my mind is of a tree being felled,'' she said. 

''I thought he was dead and [the man] walked back to the TV and sat back down like he hadn't done anything.''

Wimbledon Villa clinical facilities manager Felicity Reid said the incident was ''a sharp wake-up call'' for the home, which had improved its services and staff training. 

Ross said the resident who pushed Czepanski fell within the definition of being unfit to stand trial.

Scott reserved his decision.

- Manawatu Standard

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