Cases of death in social and children’s care homes - the Ombudsman requests extraordinary, objective inquiries in each case
In the opinion of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, the state does not completely fulfill its obligations, as the cases of deaths in residential care homes are not automatically followed by objective, professional inquiries, independent from the age of the deceased person and the maintainer of the institution. In his report, Ombudsman László Székely requested the Minister of Human Capacities to act as soon as possible.
In its submission to the Ombudsman, an international human rights organization called Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC) complained of the fact that the deaths in social care homes, children’s care homes, care homes for persons with disabilities, psychiatric institutions maintained by the state are not followed by an investigation conducted by an independent body in each case.
As a result of his inquiry, Ombudsman László Székely said in summary that there are currently several types of procedures that are applied in cases of death in children’s care homes and residential social care homes. The choice of such procedure depends on whether the care home is maintained by the state, whether it is under the scope of the Social Code or the Child Protection Act, and also, whether the deceased person was under 18 years of age. It is underlined in the report in which cases and based on what criteria the state bodies with a competence for conducting inquiries regard it as justified to take further measures, to request further information, or to conduct an official inspection of the institution in question.
The Ombudsman concluded that the state’s obligation to protect fundamental rights cannot be disregarded in this case, either. In the Ombudsman’s opinion, an objective investigation independent from the players in the social welfare system will be necessary in relation to any and all deaths in institutions of long-term or residential care. If the authorities investigate into the factors contributing to deaths and into whether anyone can be called to account or any other measures should be taken on a professional basis, the number of deaths may be reduced, i.e., such actions may have a preventive effect. The development and maintenance of a uniform preventive mechanism for the protection of rights should be a key element in the state’s objective obligation to protect the life and health of the persons under care. The state is obliged to protect human life institutionally, and this means genuine responsibility.
Recently, it was pointed out in quite a number of the Ombudsman’s reports that personal and objective resources are deficient in nursing homes with a high number of beds, what is more, it has also happened that the records made of inspections by the supervising authorities indicated life-threatening conditions. All this justifies that the reasons for the cases of death in nursing homes should be investigated into objectively, in the best interests of the patients and the staff who takes care of them. Furthermore, the Commissioner also concluded that the residential care institutions that provide professional care qualify as places of detention, and pursuant to the effective laws, the death of a detainee is always deemed an extraordinary case of death. In the Ombudsman’s opinion, it raises concerns that the procedures to be applied are determined on the basis of who maintains the institutions, as such practice does not ensure the operational frameworks arising from the state’s objective obligation to protect life.
Ombudsman László Székely pointed it out that the effective statutory environment and the law enforcement practices are not compatible with the state’s objective obligation to protect life, with the principles of legal certainty and equal treatment, and they are not compliant with the obligations undertaken in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, either. The Commissioner asked the Minister of Human Capacities to set up an action group, by involving the experts concerned, which will elaborate the legal frameworks and professional protocols ensuring objective investigation into the cases of death in social care homes and children’s care homes maintained by the state or by another entity.