Amputee waits for months in rest home

WAITING AND WAITING: Ian Fothergill is fed up with waiting.
WAITING AND WAITING: Ian Fothergill is fed up with waiting.

A 55-year-old Nelson man who lost his leg in June says he is close to losing his mind as well, after being forced to live in a rest home while waiting for modifications to his house.

Ian Fothergill has been living in Otumarama Rest Home since mid-August, and is waiting for Enable New Zealand to modify his bathroom so he can go home.

"I just want to get out of here. My home is old and cold, but I would rather be there than in a retirement home where a lot of goings on really s... me off.

"I'm beginning to hate it. The walls are so thin. I have had it. I need to get back to normality. Sometimes I go to bed and cry as my life has changed so bloody much," he said.

Fothergill described as "disgusting" the length of time taken by Enable New Zealand, which is contracted by ACC and the Health Ministry to assess and modify homes.

"They should have been on to it as soon as they took my leg off. The whole system is far too slow. There are a lot of people running around with clipboards, but they're doing nothing," he said.

Fothergill's right leg was amputated below the knee in June, after a cracked heel became infected and developed into an ulcer.

He said the rest home was one of five options he was given when it was time to leave Nelson Hospital.

The other options, which were unsuitable for various reasons, included Franklin Village, private boarding with a woman and her young daughter and a motel in Richmond.

Fothergill said he could not afford to pay for the housing modifications, which included a level access shower, removal of a wall to gain access to the toilet and the widening of a door, as he was on an invalid benefit and had a mortgage to pay.

The long-time diabetic has been on a benefit since he lost his job in the freezing works industry in 2000, first a sickness benefit and then an invalid's. His left foot was half removed in 2009, after moisture got into an old ulcer under his big toe.

Fothergill's amputations are not covered by ACC, because they are deemed to be caused by a medical condition.

Nelson Marlborough Amputee Society secretary Claire West, who had her leg amputated below the knee five years ago, said amputees' experiences were significantly different depending on whether they lost their limbs through accidents or ill health.

"It appears to be inequitable. ACC provides a better service in relation to car modifications and housing modifications. I went through the ACC process five years ago and couldn't fault it, but other amputees find the process of house modifications frustrating and disabling from the Ministry of Health perspective," she said.

Fothergill said if he had "stuck a chainsaw through my foot, I would have been better off", but Enable New Zealand general manager Heather Browning said Ministry of Health-funded housing modifications did not take longer than ACC-funded ones.

Fifty-six client were going through the housing modification process with Enable New Zealand in the Nelson region; 29 applications were for Health Ministry funding and 27 for ACC funding.

Browning said it was a complex process with "a whole pile of things that have to happen", including housing assessments, determining the eligibility of clients, identifying the most cost-effective options and seeking quotes and resource consents for work.

Health Ministry-funded clients, like Fothergill, also needed to be income and asset tested for any work over $8000.

The estimated cost for the bathroom modifications was $13,000 to $16,000, and Fothergill had already contracted a private builder to complete a ramp to his house at his own cost.

Browning said Enable New Zealand did not believe Fothergill's housing modifications were taking too long, as the provider had to follow a clear process.

Work and Income asset test forms were sent to Fothergill on October 19, and "we are awaiting the outcome of that process".

The average time for housing modifications, from when Enable New Zealand received applications, was three to four months.

If there were delays due to "entities outside our control", such as Work and Income or local councils, it could take up to nine months.

Browning said the length of time Fothergill would have to wait until he was back home depended on the Work and Income and building consent processes.

"Once these processes are completed the building work should then be commenced and completed prior to Christmas.

"Enable New Zealand received an application for housing modifications for Ian on September 7. Had Enable New Zealand received an application in June, when Ian had the amputation, it is very likely the housing modification would now be complete," she said.

The Nelson Mail