By Constantinos Psillides
THE 40-year-old woman found dead in a Larnaca flat waist-deep in garbage on Thursday died from peritonitis, a bacterial or fungal infection of the gastrointestinal tract, a post mortem revealed on Friday.
State pathologists Nicos Charalambous and Sofoclis Sofocleous concluded the peritonitis was caused by duodenal perforation for which the woman had refused treatment last week at Larnaca General Hospital.
According to the state pathologists, her living conditions had contributed to her death. Perforation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract is normally considered a surgical emergency as it leaves the patient open to bacterial infections.
Despite this and the conditions in which she was living, the post mortem showed that the woman herself was clean and her nails manicured.
Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou has ordered a probe to establish what failures may have occurred within the welfare system under whose care the woman and her five-year-old boy were.
The investigation will look into how their living conditions had gone unnoticed and why state assistance was cut in December without further checks. The woman had been receiving benefits since 2010.
According to the head of Welfare Services, Toulla Kouloumou, the benefits stopped after the woman was offered two jobs but turned them down, which is policy. However reports suggested one of the jobs had been on a farm, which would have paid only a little over €400 a month, compared to the reported €700 she received on benefits.
Asked why the social worker assigned to her case had failed to realise that the woman and child were living waist-deep in garbage, Kouloumou said a social worker met with her a year ago but didn’t find anything wrong at the flat.
“Since then she used to come by our offices,” said Kouloumou. Referring to how welfare had tried to contact the woman after being cut off, Kouloumou said an official visited her apartment, knocked on the door but got no answer. “He left a note and departed,” said Kouloumou. She said each social worker has around 400 cases, or 20,000 in total islandwide.
Kouloumou pointed out that in a lot of cases foreigners who miss their appointments with welfare tend to have left the country.
She said the Romanian woman had never failed to keep her appointments in the past, had visited the unemployment office when she was due, and her child was attending preschool. He is now under welfare protection.
According to reports yesterday she may also have another son, a 23-year-old who CyBC said was serving time at the central prisons on burglary charges.
Commenting on the state of the woman’s flat, which was indicative of someone with a psychological disorder, Kouloumou conceded that “behind the mess and rubbish” there may have been some mental health problems.
She appealed to the public to inform local welfare offices if such cases come to their attention.
Women’s organisation POGO, in a statement said it was well-known that welfare was understaffed and that the number of needy families had increased dramatically. “It can take five to six months for them to respond,” the organisation said.
“In the meantime families are living without power and without any income. But money should not be the only criterion when it comes to family welfare. Mental health, training and education are equally necessary.”
Meanwhile the state doctor’s union head Maro Kontou responded to accusations of indifference on behalf of the doctors when the woman visited Larnaca General last week.
“The woman visited the hospital at ten o’clock in the morning; she was speaking Greek and complained of severe stomach pains. The attending physician, after a series of tests, diagnosed her with a perforated duodenum and immediately informed her that this was a life-threatening condition and that she needed treatment,” said Kontou.
“The doctor then brought in a Romanian colleague and had her condition explained in her native language. She insisted on refusing treatment and we had to let her go. The doctor called her mobile the next day to ask her to come in for surgery but she still refused.”
Kontou said the only scenario in which treatment is given without consent is if the patient is unable to communicate.
Health minister Petros Petrides said on Thursday there was no law forcing someone to receive treatment. Petrides also announced his launching of a probe to make sure that all proper procedure was followed regarding the handling of the case by Larnaca doctors.
Asked whether the union planned to suggest a protocol whereby a physician would have to notify police or welfare to report people refusing life-saving treatment, Kontou said this was a matter for the health ministry.