The family of Mount St Thomas man Ariel Vega say his untimely death in Wollongong Hospital two years ago has left a hole in their hearts ‘‘that will never be filled’’.
Speaking at the final day of the coroner’s inquest for the 78-year-old who died in August 2011, one of Mr Vega’s four sons, Henry, said his father was ‘‘a devoted family man’’ with outstanding morals.
‘‘He touched everyone around him,’’ said a tearful Henry, who was flanked by his three brothers and mother, Beatriz, Mr Vega’s wife of 53 years. ‘‘It seems impossible for us to live on without him.’’
The two-week inquest has sought to answer questions about how and why Mr Vega went missing from a hospital ward about 6.30pm on August 8, following minor surgery earlier in the day.
The court heard Mr Vega walked through two normally locked doors into a restricted plant room, where he fell face down through an aluminium-framed window and broke his neck.
Tragically, his body was not found for another 17 hours, the result of a ‘‘haphazard’’ search based on poor protocols in place at the time.
Barrister Michael McAuley, acting for the Vega family, said on Friday Wollongong Hospital had failed the family by not securing the two sets of doors Mr Vega walked through, not ensuring staff were aware Mr Vega had suffered an episode of delirium following surgery in 2008, and failing to ensure a systematic search was carried out when he went missing.
He said the hospital also failed to communicate with Mrs Vega regarding her husband’s whereabouts while he was moving between the theatre, the recovery room and the ward.
‘‘The matter [Mr Vega’s death], as tragic as it is, has aspects that transcend the Vega family,’’ Mr McAuley said.
‘‘Anyone who lives in the area has a big interest in having available to them and their families a well functioning Wollongong Hospital.’’
Mr McAuley acknowledged that the hospital had already implemented several changes in its procedures and rewritten protocols to limit the chances of a similar incident in the future.
He told the court the Vega family were ‘‘very sympathetic’’ to the hospital nursing staff, saying the situation had been ‘‘terrible for everyone’’ involved.
Deputy State Coroner Geraldine Beattie indicated on Thursday she would not be making any adverse findings against the staff involved, but was likely to recommend further training for nurses in detecting signs that could indicate patients who may pose a higher risk of post-operative delirium.
Ms Beattie is expected to hand down her findings next Friday.