City of Oslo fined in starvation case

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The City of Oslo has been slapped with a heavy fine for negligence in the care of a woman who starved to death in her own home. The local government, like those all over Norway, is charged with providing health care at home, and admits that its systems failed.

From these offices at City Hall, responsibility for providing health care services and help at home is delegated to district offices. A woman in her 60s starved to death at home after Ullern district in Oslo failed to do its job. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

From these offices at City Hall, responsibility for providing health care services and help at home is delegated to district offices. A woman in her 60s starved to death at home after the office in Oslo’s affluent Ullern district failed to follow up on the woman’s needs and ignored warnings that she wasn’t able to take care of herself. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The woman, reported to be in her 60s, had been cared for at the Madserud Sykehjem (nursing home) in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district. Newspaper VG reported that she was sent home to the Ullern district where she lived in January 2015, and should have received hjemmehjelp, Norway’s system of providing health care and other help at home. The system is widely used to cut the costs of Norway’s publicly funded and operated nursing homes and address shortages of nursing home capacity. It also allows many elderly residents to remain in their own homes instead of having to move to a nursing home, but is often criticized because the help provided at home is often rushed or deemed inadequate. Others complain that it’s used to avoid providing nursing home care for many people who need it, especially single and lonely senior citizens who lack support from family or friends.

‘Should have followed up’
In the case reported by VG on Friday, the City of Oslo’s system of funneling health and home care services through district offices broke down. That’s the basis for the NOK 2 million (USD 238,000) fine issued by Oslo Police after they’d charged the city with failing to chart the woman’s needs for care and medical assistance.

City officials and those in Bydel Ullern, the otherwise affluent district where the woman lived, also were charged with ignoring so-called bekymringsmeldinger, which are official reports of concern often filed by neighbours, friends or relatives.

“In this case, we ended our services too early,” Marie Anbjørg Joten, director of Bydel Ullern, admitted to VG. “And we should have followed up the reports of concern with home visits.” Joten said the entire case was a result of “a weakness in the system.”

‘Tragic and painful case’
The woman, who reportedly was left largely on her own, apparently stopped eating and was determined to have died of starvation in the fall of last year. News bureau NTB reported that it also took 16 days before her body was found.

“This is a tragic and painful case for everyone involved,” Joten said. “We take responsibility for what has happened. At the same time, I want to stress that the residents of Bydel Ullen shall feel secure that they will receive adequate health care when they have a need for it.”

Inga Marte Thorkildsen, the top city politician in charge of eldercare in Oslo, apologized for the “terrible outcome” of the case. “This is frighteningly painful and must be a terrible experience for all those involved,” Thorkildsen, who represents the Socialist Left party (SV) known for championing Norway’s social welfare state, wrote in an email to VG. “Even though this happened before my time (Oslo’s new Labour Party-led city government coalition won power last fall after nearly two decades of Conservative rule), I want to nonetheless apologize for this in the strongest of terms.”

‘Many mistakes’
Thorkildsen stated that “many mistakes” were made and that Bydel Ullern has delved “deeply” into the case “to make sure such mistakes won’t be made again.” Thorkildsen said Ullern’s district office, which serves a large area on Oslo’s west side, has also expanded its home health care services and hired “several” new nurses.

The city has accepted the fine from Oslo Police but VG reported city officials are “discussing” its size with the police. It’s not the first time the City of Oslo has been fined for negligence. It contested a fine of NOK 500,000 that it received after an 83-year-old woman suffering from dementia wandered out of her home four years ago and froze to death just outside her apartment building’s front door. The city was later cleared of responsibility in the case by a local court.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • John Palmer

    Sad. Tragedies happen. I think the focus needs to be on improving the system. With a good system, even average workers can excel. With a bad system, the best can be reduced to mediocre.