Plight of paralysed Kiwi a warning to other expats

Kevin Saunders says with no access to state disability help, he may have to sell his Gold Coast house to pay for the care he’ll need when he leaves hospital (Photo supplied).

14 May 2017

Ged Cann – The DomPost

A Kiwi left partly paralysed and unable to afford home care after a fall in an Australian hospital may be among a growing number of expats locked out of disability care, says a rights advocate.

Kevin Saunders is one of an estimated quarter-million Kiwis who will be disadvantaged by Australia’s new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), according to advocacy group Oz Kiwi.

The scheme, being rolled out now, provides support for people with a significant disability, their families and carers. However, New Zealanders who arrived after 2001 and had not gained permanent residency or citizenship are ineligible.

The scar from the surgery to fix Kevin Saunders’ scoliosis. He says he cannot afford the ongoing home care he’ll need after a fall in hospital.

Saunders was covered by private insurance for the surgery to fix scoliosis (curvature of the spine), but when nurses left him unattended he fell, suffering paralysis from the waist down. He has had three follow-up operations.

The 61-year-old, who lives on Queensland’s Gold Coast, is now considering selling his family home to cover the hefty bills for home care, physiotherapy, and house alterations which will allow him to live a normal life.


Kiwi rights advocate David Faulkner said Queensland’s policies were among the most unfriendly towards New Zealanders, and mirrored the provisions of the NDIS.

Oz Kiwi estimated 250,000 to 350,000 Kiwis would be denied access to the NDIS, despite being required to pay the levy to fund it. This number would include children born in Australia to Kiwi parents after 2001.

“They [Kiwis] will be paying the taxes for it, but won’t be able to claim on it,” Faulkner said.

Saunders’ operation, on 14 January, involved opening up most of his back, and inserting metal rods and 38 screws. The operation was a success, and left Saunders standing 60mm taller.

But 10 days after the operation, Saunders said he was left unattended in hospital after requesting help to go to the bathroom.

“Two nurses sat me up on the side of the bed, and I had this walking frame on my right-hand side. Then off they went, saying they were too busy. Off they went out the door, closed the door,”  he said.

“I’m sitting there thinking, what happens if I fall off this bed? I was frankly very frightened.”

He couldn’t reach the buzzer and his calls for help went unanswered. Saunders tried to use the walking frame, but half way to the bathroom his left leg went soft and he fell. He was on the ground for almost an hour, he said, during which time he lost all sensation in his legs.

Three emergency operations returned some feeling to his toes, but he said it would be another two months before he could return home, and a year before he was likely to walk again.

Gofundme page has been set up to help support Saunders through his recovery.

“I get no social welfare whatsoever,” he said. “I have paid substantial tax in both New Zealand and Australia since 1980 and I’m now locked out, and [I] guess dependent on others’  generosity, for which I’m humbled,” he said.

Saunders said he went to Australia in 2013 to develop and export his KnewPod invention, a type of building foundation  designed to strengthen houses in the event of an earthquake.

Kiwis are covered for public healthcare in Australia, but not for social welfare support.

“There are a whole lot of Kiwis over here who work their bums off and they get nothing,” Saunders said. “At the end of the day, they say if you reach you use-by date, you’re out of here.”

[Read the DomPost article].

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