19 December 2016

 MG 8001In response to reports in the media about the woman's death and complaints received regarding human rights’ violations, the Seimas Ombudsman, Augustinas Normantas, visited the Prienai Care Home. The safety of the residents was assessed, to see if there were any human rights abuses and if the personnel was prepared for extreme situations.

The Seimas Ombudsman wondered why the resident had suffocated from smoke if the personnel had taken all measures to avoid a disaster. The Seimas Ombudsman expressed doubts as to whether the staff had responded to the disaster in time, and whether the fire alarm system had been activated timely and appropriately.

In 2013, while visiting the Prienai Care Home, the Seimas Ombudsman had identified some human rights violations. These were dealt with, at the time, by the administration.

“Three years ago, I made recommendations to ensure all fire safety requirements. When providing information on the implementation of the recommendations, the care home administration assured us that the foster home was equipped with a fire safety alarm system.” The Seimas Ombudsman recalled the answer from the administration that, in case the alarm is tripped, “the employees would react rapidly.” “The crucial question, therefore, is whether the employees did not respond to the fire alarm in time, or whether it did not work. Or was it possible to avoid the death of a resident? Of course, a pre-trial investigation will provide the answers.”

The Seimas Ombudsman has repeatedly made recommendations to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour to initiate the amendments for social care licensing procedures, by supplementing them with minimum fire safety requirements. Although Vilnius County Fire and Rescue Board agreed with the recommendations, the Fire and Rescue Department under the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Social Security and Labour did not endorse them.

In the Seimas Ombudsman's view, it is necessary to change social care licensing regulations so that each care institution according to its nature of activity would meet the specific fire protection requirements.

"Time and again we have seen that the residents with physical disabilities are accommodated on the second or third floors of care homes, people are locked in, or a fire alarm system fails to trigger. This case again shows that there must be a sufficient legal framework established to ensure fire safety in nursing homes," said the Seimas Ombudsman, A. Normantas.

A re-visit of Prienai Care Home revealed several perennial problems, among which, the use of intoxicants. In the opinion of Mr. Normantas, the care home’s administration should pay greater attention to preventive programs. Furthermore, by amending the internal regulations, penalties for residents smoking in the rooms should be introduced.

"Residents should regularly be informed and systematically taught how they should behave and whom they should address in an emergency situation," said the Seimas Ombudsman, A. Normantas.

In the Seimas Ombudsman's view, although the institution has a fire emergency system, it is not effective, because it activates only in case of large amounts of smoke. "The institution also has an emergency call system; there are emergency buttons in residents’ rooms, but it should be improved,” noted Mr. Normantas.