Widow weeps at no-blame verdict

UPSET: Myra Giese has condemned a coroner's finding into her husband's death.
UPSET: Myra Giese has condemned a coroner's finding into her husband's death.

The widow of a renowned musician who lay dead in a Wellington retirement village for a fortnight has condemned a coroner's finding that the operator was not to blame.

Richard William Giese, 85, a long-time principal flautist with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, was found dead in his apartment in March 2010 at the Ryman Healthcare-run Rita Angus Retirement Village in the Wellington suburb Kilbirnie.

A fellow resident raised the alarm after noting she had not heard him playing his flute. He had not opened his windows and his lights were permanently on.

INDEPENDENT: Richard Giese had turned down the option of a $6 daily phone call checking on his welfare.
INDEPENDENT: Richard Giese had turned down the option of a $6 daily phone call checking on his welfare.

When staff entered his apartment, they found him dead from natural causes, possibly up to two weeks earlier.

"Where is the sense of community?" Myra Giese, of Blenheim, asked yesterday.

"It's like a New York apartment. Nobody knows anybody."

She described herself as Giese's partner. They divorced and she returned to him after her new husband's death.

She had last spoken to him on February 23 and he had mentioned that he was having difficulty breathing. He made a phone call the next day, but was not seen or heard from again.

She cried when she received a copy of coroner Ian Smith's finding, made public yesterday, which cleared Ryman of any wrongdoing.

Management said Giese had refused an offer to pay extra for daily telephone checks, which cost $6 a day, and that other residents would be "horrified" if they had such checks forced on them.

But Myra Giese was adamant that Ryman had "mucked up".

"To have someone lying there for two weeks and have no-one notice..."

Giese paid to live in a retirement village that was meant to provide support, she said.

"I don't know how you can whitewash that."

Smith noted in his findings that Giese lived an independent life and was well aware of the services offered.

"It is, however, unacceptable that a person may lie deceased in their home for some weeks, and any aspects that can prevent this occurring must be explored."

He pointed towards a looming "explosion" in retirement village accommodation as baby-boomers age.

The 2006 census, the last with available figures, showed 27,966 older people lived in residential care, not including those in independent dwellings, such as Giese's apartment.

He would have paid upwards of $400,000 for the apartment, as well as a base weekly fee of $99.

For serviced apartments, which include regular checks, linen changes and a daily meal, the base weekly fee is $309. Serviced apartments cost upwards of $300,000.

Grey Power president Roy Reid said deaths in circumstances such as Giese's were uncommon in retirement villages, but even in independent apartments a death should never go undetected for two weeks.

"Once is too often in our view."

Ryman Healthcare managing director Simon Challies said the incident was unfortunate, but the organisation was blameless.

There was no smell from the room, the mailbox was not overflowing, and given how often elderly people were up at night, the fact his lights were on did not raise an alarm, he said.

"There was no suggestion the staff should have picked it up earlier."

Giese had rejected an offer of regular checks.

"He was not the type of person that wanted to be checked up on."

The company had met residents after Giese's death, and they had been "horrified" at suggestions of mandatory checks, he said.

They were keen for a system in which they watched out for each other and the company was testing a security system that would activate if there was no movement in a room for 24 hours.

Smith suggested a system of weekly checks from which residents could opt out if they wished, rather than the present one of having to opt in.

MP for the Kilbirnie suburb, Annette King, who is also Labour's health spokeswoman, said Rita Angus Retirement Village had a good reputation in her community and complaints about it to her electorate office were rare.

"I've never heard of anything like that in a retirement village, not two weeks. Surely there would be family or someone who would knock on the door?"

Elderly care was severely underfunded and, in some cases, this had led to long delays in assessing the needs of people in retirement villages, she said.

Age Concern New Zealand chief executive Ann Martin said it was appalling that someone could lie dead for so long without being found. She backed the suggestion of weekly checks from which residents could opt out.

The Dominion Post