"Some things can't be helped and accidents happened. But some things can be helped and some things can't be forgiven," says a relative of an Aveo resident who met a horrific and unnecessary death.
It was mid-January 2014 and Victoria was experiencing the longest heatwave in 100 years when 93-year-old Iris Carrie Lees fatefully opened a thick glass door inside the main retirement village building at Melbourne's Bentleigh suburb and wandered outside into a garden area in the merciless 40-degree plus heat.
There was no warning signs on the door that if it was opened residents wouldn't be able to get back in. Iris closed the door behind her and found herself locked out; trapped in a quadrangle, with no escape. No emergency buzzer had been installed outside to call for help or CCTV to ensure residents were safe.
A joint Fairfax Media-Four Corners investigation uncovered a litany of questionable business practices at Aveo, including churning of residents, fee gouging and misleading marketing promises, such as safety and emergency services, made to some of the country's most vulnerable people.
The investigation found that a key reason retirees sign up for retirement village living is for the security that if something goes wrong they will be safe.
But Iris Lees spent her final hours trapped between a high fence on one side and a series of windows on the other, trying to find a way back in.
"There were signs that she had tapped on windows to get attention, which went unnoticed," a relative who asked for anonymity for personal reasons told Fairfax Media.
"My assumption is that she tried to climb the back fence out of desperation."
Mrs Lees was found several hours later, dead, severely sunburned, upright between a tree bordering a fence on the property and the fence itself, multiple family members who have all asked not to be named have confirmed.
The company said in a statement it was "deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Iris, who had been living in our Aveo Bentleigh community for approximately three years. We continue to offer our sincere condolences to her family and friends."
"Respecting the lives of our residents is our number one priority," the company said.
The company added that given the nature of the incident and out of respect for Mrs Lees' family they were unable to address specific details, but added "that we reject many of the implications in your account".
"The situation makes me think they've gone back to their old habits."
Her shocking death rocked the village. According to residents and family members, Mrs Lees was a caring, well liked woman who was deeply loved by her extended and immediate family.
After she died Aveo put in an emergency buzzer, which as of Thursday wasn't working.
On Thursday evening this week there was a sign on the door saying: "Please do not use this door as the emergency call system is inactive at the moment. We are having it repaired as soon as possible."
Fairfax Media also learned that following an inquiry to Aveo about Mrs Lees' death on Thursday evening, the buzzer was serviced on Friday afternoon.
Aveo said in a statement that "as part of our commitment to safety and security, most doors at our facilities [other than the entrance] are exit only. All residents are well informed of this." It added Worksafe Victoria does regular inspections and said: "Mrs Lees lived in a Serviced Apartment as an independent resident to come and go as she wished."
It would take the village until this year – three years after her death – to install CCTV surveillance cameras. "I find it unfathomable that the facility could lose track of a resident in the middle of the day in a heat wave [there were four or five consecutive days over 40 degrees]," he said.
Another relative said he was disgusted by what happened. "You should be accountable for your residents," he said.
Yet another relative said the family could have taken the matter a lot further but decided not to pursue legal action because the family have been given the assurances the problem with the door would be fixed. According to this relative, Aveo never formally apologised to the family.
That relative was also surprised to hear the buzzer wasn't working and CCTV cameras were only installed this year.
"The situation makes me think they've gone back to their old habits," the relative said.
A resident from the village said it wasn't the first time people had wandered outside the door and couldn't get back in. "They didn't take any notice," she said.
This isn't the first incident of residents feeling unsafe in an Aveo retirement village.
John Hayto, a resident at Aveo's retirement village in Northcote, was attracted to the promise of safety and emergency services, believing he would be in good hands if something ever went wrong. He is still in a rehabilitation centre after a fall seven months ago that left him on the floor of his Aveo unit for five days without food, water or medication. He was discovered by his cleaner, who comes once a fortnight.
Others have come forward alleging that the emergency pendants don't always work.
One resident at The George in Melbourne said recently her mother ended up on the floor of her apartment and because no one went to check why she wasn't at lunch, she was on the floor for up to two hours.
"Fortunately, she was only shaken up, but for a nearly 95-year-old, it could have been more serious. There are heaps of other 'incidents'," she said.
Know more? Contact email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org