A family is demanding to know the truth about their mother's final hours, more than six months after her shocking death at a Queensland nursing home.
Following a complaint from a staff member, authorities are investigating five deaths at Carinity Fairfield Grange nursing home in Townsville, including Charlotte "Lottie" Paluszak’s, which were allegedly caused by procedural breaches.
“The system is broken if these things can happen,” Paluszak’s daughter Monika Simpson tells WHO.
“Six months after the event we are still seeking answers.”
Though her German-born mother was 84 and in a nursing home, her death late last year came as a heartrending shock to Simpson.
Grandmother-of-nine Paluszak had been suffering no pain at Carinity, and despite having dementia, her physical health was fine.
“She was in good spirits,” says Simpson. “Mum had a wicked sense of humour and even though she was suffering from dementia, she still had a joke with us.”
But having been told their mum had died from diabetes in November, Simpson and her siblings, Petra Andersen and Harold Paluszak, were delivered a bombshell.
“We got a bill for morphine that was used the night she died,” Andersen, 54, tells WHO. “There were large amounts prescribed. It didn’t seem right.”
It wasn’t. Three nurses have been sacked and a doctor has been reported to the Office of the Health Ombudsman over the matter.
Disturbingly, the nurse who allegedly administered Paluszak with a lethal dose of drugs was described as acting “strange” at the funeral, performing a dance near the coffin.
“This whole thing has been horrific,” says mother-of-two Simpson.
“It’s bad enough we were grieving the loss of our mother when we thought she’d had a peaceful death. To be told that someone may have been responsible was like a slap in the face.”
It wasn’t until a Carinity staff member took their concerns to CrimeStoppers that the real cause of death, and the suspicious deaths of other residents, came to light.
“The next we knew, detectives were at Petra’s door,” says Simpson.
Carinity has since launched an investigation.
“We lodged a report with the Office of the Health Ombudsman,” said a Carinity spokesperson in a statement provided to WHO.
“We also reported three registered nurses for breaching Carinity’s clinical policies and procedures. All three were dismissed.”
It’s not enough for Paluszak’s children, who say the nurse in question has not been deregistered and is free to work elsewhere.
“Mum was an amazing woman,” says Simpson. “She loved Australia, she found her better life here.”
And she relished helping those in need. While running a boarding house in Victoria, “she was always looking after the people who stayed there,” says Simpson.
“And when she retired, she worked with Meals on Wheels and looked after Dad.”
It’s the sort of nurturing care that was cruelly lacking in her final years, in the place where it was most needed.
“We thought it had been Mum’s time,” says Andersen. “But it seems it wasn’t. We could have had more time with her.”
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