A CARE HOME has been handed a £1.6m fine after allowing a 91-year-old resident to freeze to death in what was described as an “accident waiting to happen”.
Annie Barritt was so cold when nurses went into her room that her temperature couldn’t register on a standard thermometer. She was eventually found to be nearly 10 degrees below the hypothermia threshold of 35 degrees, a court heard.
Today, the Recorder of York, Judge Paul Batty QC, said there were “systematic, systemic failures” at the care home.
He said that when Mrs Barritt was brought into hospital “her body temperature was at a level barely compatible with human life’.
During the hearing, York Crown Court heard the dementia sufferer had not been given any hot food or drink as she spent her last day asleep in her room.
The court heard that about a week prior to her death Mrs Barritt had been in hospital following a fall, and her discharge papers stated that she needed to be kept warm at Oaklands Country Rest Home, near York.
The papers said Mrs Barritt’s temperature “was found to be low, please keep patient warm” and were passed by her son to staff at the home.
Judge Batty QC said: “There was in my judgment no amendment to Mrs Barritt’s care plan.
“Those trusted with her care should have been aware of this cautionary note from the hospital, they were not.
“The failure to revise Mrs Barritt’s care plan was indicative to other residents.
“This was not an isolated ocurrance.”
Mrs Barritt died after suffering from hypothermia, despite two nurses checking on her around 10 times on the day of her death.
Leeds-based Maria Mallaband Care Ltd pleaded guilty to a health and safety charge relating to Mrs Barritt’s death at an earlier hearing in June.
At the time it ran 30 homes for the elderly across the country, including Oaklands, and cared for 2,600 residents.
Before handing the company a fine of £1.6m and £45,560 in prosecution costs, Judge Batty QC said: “It can be seen that this case does not involve an isolated and tragic act.
“The death of this much loved lady I regret to say in the context of this case was an accident waiting to happen.
“It my judgment it is very serious and there were systematic, systemic failures in that care home.”
Mrs Barritt, who originally went to the home on July 25, 2012, for three weeks, but stayed there until her death on November 4, 2012.
The court heard Mrs Barritt had suffered from dementia for five years.
Judge Batty QC told the court that Mrs Barritt was admitted to the home after much soul searching by her “loving and attentive family” because they thought it was the safest place for her.
He described how Mrs Barritt suffered from dementia and was unable to make decisions, adding: “Accordingly she was totally reliant upon those who care for her and other in the home.”
The court heard previously that investigations into Mrs Barritt’s death revealed the radiators in her and other rooms nearby were never maintained - and had been inexpertly repaired.
The only maintenance person on site was a handyman without the relevant qualifications or experience, who only worked mornings they court heard previously.
Relatives of Mrs Barritt and other residents, and staff had warned management repeatedly for two years that the oil-fired heating in the home’s Acorn suite didn’t work properly - but nothing had been done to rectify the situation.
The home had run out of fuel on several occasions during the two winters before her death, the court heard previously, the court heard previously.
In his judgment, Judge Batty said: “Common sense dictates there has to be some objective yard stick by which room temperature can be monitored and checked.
“In my judgment it was an obvious and sensible precaution for any care home to take.”
Maria Mallaband Care Group Ltd has an annual turnover of £50m and has won national awards.
However Oaklands Country Rest Home showed losses of £1.75m in 2015 and £4.2m in 2016.
The North Yorkshire home spent £800K a year on wages, including directors.
Following the decision, Mrs Barritt’s family said in a statement: “The last four years have been very hard for the family, coming to terms with the tragic circumstances of Mum’s death from hypothermia.
“It is hard to believe and elderly lady with dementia could be treated in such an appalling way in a Care Home that claimed to specialise in care for vulnerable people.
“A fine, no matter how large could never replace a loved one, what price can you put on your Mother’s life?
“We can only hope that Mother’s sad and unnecessary death may have served to improve the standards at Maria Mallaband Care Homes and God willing prevent such a tragic event from ever happening again.”
The Maria Mallaband Care Group Ltd said in a statement: “The Maria Mallaband Care Group would like to express again our deepest sympathies to the family of Mrs Barritt.
“They trusted us to look after their loved one and we failed, and for this we are very sorry.”
Tony Moule, the Environmental Health Officer at Harrogate Borough Council, who conducted an investigation, said: “Our investigation revealed that there were a number of serious failures with regard to health and safety legislation.
“These are in place to ensure the wellbeing of care home residents and we welcome the court’s decision to impose a significant fine.
“No fine can ever compensate the family for the loss of their mother in such shocking circumstances. For an elderly vulnerable person to suffer hypothermia, whilst in bed in her room under the care of a national care provider, beggars belief.
“Care homes must take their responsibilities seriously and Maria Mallaband Care Group Limited failed in its duty of care.
“We hope that this case sends out a message which will help to ensure that such events don’t happen in the future.”