A 63-year-old single-leg amputee has been trapped in his Tuross Head home since September 2016.
In that time, he says the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has sat on its hands, failing to approve the installation of a lift on his modest two-storey home, despite him meeting all criteria.
Since the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to Eurobodalla in 2016, a string of advocates has tried to give some choice and control to Tony Candy, and Katungul support coordinator Debbie Diggins has been with him from the start.
I was seriously mortified this man was pulling himself up and down these stairs.
Mr Candy is a former security worker who developed diabetes after a bout of pneumonia some five years ago. This led to the amputation of his right leg in 2015 and months of rehabilitation at Moruya Hospital.
In 2016, Ms Diggins was a Local Area Coordinator (LAC) helping residents submit to the NDIA for approval.
When Mr Candy returned home after surgery and rehab it was glaringly obvious home modifications were needed.
NSW Community Health sent an occupational therapist (OT) to assess the building.
Bathroom fixtures were installed and other small modifications made, but the major hurdle was a flight of internal stairs too steep for an indoor chair lift or ramp.
The OT travelled from Sydney to measure and quoted $70,000 for the purchase and installation of a lift attached to the outside of Mr Candy’s home.
“I came out here on December 8, 2016, sat here in this room, and I saw his quote for his lift,” Ms Diggins said.
When Mr Candy needed to visit the doctor, he had to pull himself down the stairs on his bottom.
“I had doctor’s appointments and I had to go up to Canberra to get a prosthetic fitted; to minimise going up and down the stairs, I would have them both on the same day,” he said.
“I'd go to Canberra in the morning, come back and have a doctor’s appointment at 2pm. By pulling myself down the stairs, I would damage my sciatic nerve – by the time I'd come back from Canberra, I would have to spend at least one or two days downstairs before pulling myself back up.”
Ms Diggins “just couldn't believe it”.
She said she was trained by the NDIA that, “if it's reasonable and necessary, if it's their choice and control, and if it is value for money and builds their independence, the NDIA will approve the funding”.
Mr Candy eventually received an NDIS package of $56,000 per anum, to pay for disability services and products specific to his needs.
This money is reviewed annually and can only be spent on items approved by the NDIA.
NDIA asked Mr Candy to lodge a separate application for the lift with another quote from an NDIA-approved company.
Ms Diggins helped Mr Candy use $2500 from his package to pay Sydney-based company and NDIA provider Scope Projects for the new quote.
The paperwork for the lift was lodged with the NDIA before Ms Diggins left her role as LAC to be an NDIS support coordinator for Yumaro in Moruya and Katungul in Narooma.
At the time, she was confident the lift would be approved.
But when next she came into contact with Mr Candy, she was shocked.
“Tony was stuck in the house alone with a plan that was insufficient to his needs, which he couldn’t use, and without the resources required to fix that issue,” she said.
His NDIS package remained untouched. Friends were shopping for him.
“It was not good,” he said. “I've always been independent and I just found it really hard."
Without being able to work or meet friends for a chat, he was isolated within four walls and a staircase.
“I started thinking, ‘how is this man communicating with the outside world?’,” Ms Diggins said.
He wasn't, other than his mobile phone. Using money from his package, Ms Diggins sent an IT professional weekly to teach Mr Candy how to use Facebook, send emails and use the internet.
"It's amazing. Before that I was a troglodyte. I had a computer, but I didn't really know what I was doing. At least now I can communicate," he said.
Ms Diggins suggested a psychologist to keep him mentally well, something he says is now a crucial part of his recovery.
However, the question of a lift to free him from the house remains unresolved.
NDIA has never refused, Ms Diggins and Mr Candy say.
“They've actually never said no. Tony hasn't got a letter saying ‘no’. We keep ringing them and writing letters and emails and the response is: ‘We'll look into it; we'll get back to you’," Ms Diggins said.
“They're saying they don't have the correct information, but we have been struggling to find what they need; no-one can tell us.”
Ms Diggins said it would have been cheaper for NDIA to install the lift when first requested in 2017.
“He'd be doing his own shopping, he'd have a (prosthetic) leg, I bet you quids he'd be pushing his own mower around the yard. What's stopping Tony is the ability to leave the house," she said.
The cost of selling up and moving and then home modifications would be more than the lift is worth, according to Ms Diggins. She labels talk of moving him into aged care as “unempathetic”.
It just makes me want to cry.Tony Candy, Tuross Head.
"Tony has two letters from his psychologist, who has been coming here for two years, saying it would be detrimental to his mental health if he did not stay in his home,” she said.
“Both of those letters have been lodged with the NDIA."
Rescue services have told him it would be difficult to get him to safety in an emergency.
Ms Diggins, Mr Candy and the people who love and care for him worry about this and wonder with whom or which body that responsibility sits, should he be injured.
"I had to scream blue murder to get him a personal alarm,” she said.
“They cost $135 a year and it took over 12 months, because they didn't think it was reasonable or necessary.
"If some number cruncher in NDIA sat there and said okay, if we give Tony this lift it's going to cost us $70,000 – his plan could have been $110,000 in that first year and we could have put the lift in, done some modifications, got a wheelchair, got a lift chair, and life would have been good.”
Mr Candy is yet to have his prosthetic leg fitted because he cannot attend appointments in Canberra, and when his plan went in for review earlier this year, it increased to $60,000 per anum.
“Tony would have had his new leg, so his next year plan would have maybe been (up to) $20,000 and that would have been ongoing for the rest of his life and he would have had his independence,” Ms Diggins said.
When approached for comment an NDIA spokesperson said: “As this matter is being considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), it would be inappropriate for the NDIA to comment or provide further detail.”
As it is, Mr Candy remains a prisoner in his own home.