Wollongong Hospital did not have any protocols in place for the regular inspection of non-emergency doors at the time a Mount St Thomas grandfather managed to access a restricted area where he later died, an inquest has heard.
Ariel Vega was found dead in a plant room on hospital premises on August 9, 2011, after going missing the previous day following minor surgery.
He gained access to a restricted area in the hospital – an open-air atrium – through a set of double doors that were normally locked and could only be opened via an electronic swipe card.
However, the inquest heard on this occasion one of the doors had been propped open with a piece of wood, and CCTV footage had captured Mr Vega walking through the doorway at 6.36pm.
Mr Vega then accessed the plant room on the opposite side of the atrium, again via an open door, where he fell through an aluminium-framed window and broke his neck.
Hospital engineers Tony Grainger and Greg Showell yesterday said doors that were considered emergency fire doors or ones that led to maintenance areas, such as the plant room, were inspected annually to make sure they were in working order.
However, they both said there was no protocol in place at the time to inspect non-emergency doors, such as those leading to the atrium.
Mr Showell said his team relied on staff to report any maintenance problems in such areas through an online reporting system.
Meantime, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District’s director of clinical governance, Robert Farrugia, said the hospital had put protocols in place for searching for missing patients since Mr Vega’s death.
He said the director of nursing would co-ordinate the search, and it was now standard practice to work ‘‘outwards’’, meaning staff would begin their search from the point where the person went missing.
At the time of Mr Vega’s disappearance, much of the search for him centred on viewing CCTV footage from the hospital’s exit points. The inquest heard on Monday an average of two patients went missing from the hospital each week.
Lawyers for all parties are expected to finish calling witnesses tomorrow.