Family sues Bendigo aged care for negligence after grandmother’s death

*Warning: This article contains graphic medical images.*

The family of a grandmother who died after a blister from a new shoe became infected are suing the Victorian care home she was living in, claiming her death was a result of improper treatment and neglect.

Mary ‘Joyce’ Taouk, died aged 84 as a result of an infected blister in 2018.

Five years ago, Mary “Joyce” Taouk, 84, was excited to be moving into Bendigo’s Uniting AgeWell Strath-Haven Community and was looking forward to day trips and activities.

“She believed she would be well looked after there, we all did,” says her daughter Mary Nalder.

But less than a year later, the mother-of-nine, who lived with type-2 diabetes, died as a result of an infected foot blister.

Her daughters – Ms Nalder, Catherine Campbell and Allison Taouk – allege it was improper treatment and neglect of this wound that led to her death from sepsis.

Mary Taouk’s foot wound as at December 6, 2017. Lawyers acting on behalf of her family allege she should have been hospitalised by this date.

The trio, represented by Slater and Gordon, are suing the aged care provider and Bendigo GP Dr Richard Hadkins over the trauma Mrs Taouk’s untimely death has caused them.

The court documents allege Dr Hadkins failed in his duties to provide care to Mrs Taouk even before the blister developed.

They state that on the 18 occasions he saw her between March and October 2017, Dr Hadkins did not “adequately or at all” perform a physical examination of her lower limbs or check blood circulation to her legs and feet – something that is alleged should have been done due to her diabetes and the risk of developing diabetic ulcers.

Records show the Dr Hadkins saw Mrs Taouk five more times after the facility staff identified the wound before he examined it.

Mary ‘Joyce’ Taouk.

According to court documents, the aged care staff first documented the wound on Mrs Taouk’s left foot on October 22, 2017, but a wound chart was not created until two months later on December 14.

The documents state that, on December 6, Dr Hadkins diagnosed the infected ulcer and prescribed antibiotics. The lawyer acting on behalf of the family alleges Dr Hadkins should have referred her to a hospital for urgent treatment.

“At that point and at each of the multiple other occasions he saw Joyce thereafter, the doctor
should have sent her to hospital for treatment of what had become a chronic wound,” said Shari Liby, a medical negligence lawyer for Slater and Gordon.

“It should have been clear to him that the wound had become quite serious in the months
that had elapsed and needed urgent specialised wound care.”

The infected pressure sore on Mrs Taouk’s foot on January 10. Two weeks after this photo the grandmother died.

It wasn’t until an on-call GP saw Mrs Taouk’s wound on January 2 – almost a month after Dr Hadkins prescribed antibiotics – that wound swabs were sent to pathology and she was referred for urgent wound care, Ms Liby says.

“That doctor also directed Strath-Haven staff to perform daily dressing changes, though this
order does not appear to have been followed.”

The pathology results then revealed that the antibiotic Mrs Taouk had been prescribed was
ineffective for the type of bacteria causing her infection. Her medication was changed by Dr
Hadkins on January 10, and he ordered a scan of the foot and blood tests.

On January 12, Dr Hadkins spoke to a specialist at Bendigo Hospital and arranged for Mrs
Taouk to be seen a few days later. The court documents allege this review did not occur and on January 17, Mrs Taouk was urgently transferred to hospital, suffering from a critical blood infection with associated kidney failure.

She died on January 24.

Ms Nalder said that when she saw how severe her mother’s wound was it “took my breath away”.

The sisters claim they sent photos of their mother’s ulcer to management and asked about a wound specialist but had their concerns brushed aside.

“We took their word for it at the time and now have so much guilt and sadness because of it,” said Ms Nalder. “We could see it was getting worse and that mum was declining, so why couldn’t they?”

Ms Taouk said the sisters hope their court action would lead to improved practices at Uniting Agewell and other aged care facilities, “so no other family has to go through what Mum did”.

Sisters Catherine Campbell, Mary Nalder and Allison Taouk.Credit:Eddie Jim

“You’d probably get better treatment in jail these days than in a nursing home, but nobody’s being held to account,” said Ms Campbell. “We want to change that.”

Ms Nalder urged anyone who is currently concerned about how a relative in aged care is being looked after, and who is unable to check in on them in person because of lockdowns, to report those concerns to authorities.

“If you think something’s not right then usually it isn’t, so you should act on your concerns straight away,” she said.

“If sharing what happened to mum can help other families follow their gut instinct about the way their loved one is being treated, then this has definitely been worthwhile.”

It is unclear whether Dr Hadkins is still treating patients at the Bendigo facility, or whether protocols at the facilities have changed in the wake of Mrs Taouk’s death.

Uniting AgeWell and Dr Hadkins declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.

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