OCTOBER 06, 2013
FRANK Montalto thought the worst. Three missed phone calls - one from his brother and two from his mother's nursing home - could mean only one thing. Dear old Mum was gone.
His older brother, Joe, was told their mother had a heart attack and fell. It was 4.30pm on May 31, 2011. Frank was at work.
He walked to his car and drove to where his mother had spent her final years, Arcare's Hampstead nursing home in Maidstone.
There was a checklist of things to do. An engineer, as he drove his mind was already constructing a list.
He walked up to huddled staff at the home's common room, noticing they looked scared. Shocked. Deaths are common in these places.
But in his countless visits to his parents he'd never seen staff wide-eyed and motionless like this - like a rabbit in a spotlight, he later described it.
Joe was already there when he walked into their mother's room.
Caterina Montalto, 76, lay peacefully in her Jasmine ward bed, a blanket up to her shoulders. Her hair was brushed and dry.
He noticed a graze on her forehead and a small mark on her chin. Nothing to worry about, though. He heard of her regular bumps and falls.
The priest came, gave the last rites. The funeral director took her body to the mortuary for embalming in the traditional Italian way.
What Frank did not know was that four days later the coroner's office would call his family. Tell him an investigation was underway. Caterina's body was needed for a post-mortem.
All was not as it seemed. A 22-year-old junior carer at the nursing home, who had seen where Caterina was found, claimed there had been a terrible accident. And, worse, a cover-up. Nobody had told the family how she really died.
A coronial hearing in July took evidence from a nurse who falsified a progress report. From a carer allegedly given a plate of scrambled eggs as a "bribe" to stop her talking.
From staff who said they'd been threatened with the sack if they spoke of Caterina's death. From a facility manager who fired the whistle blower the day after she told authorities.
Frank speaks to the Herald Sun about his family life, only to let people know that his mum deserved the best. He wanted to look after her when she was old.
He and Joe searched for a place as good as any for professional care as her dementia set in.
Frank's father Vito is still at Hampstead.
Frank won't be drawn to speak about the facility. All that he had to say on that he said to the court.
He told the Coroner he met with the Arcare chief executive Colin Singh and chief operations officer Kay Foster a week after his mother died.
Mr Singh reassured him they would "take extra care'' of his father.
Frank insisted they treat his father like all the other residents. He's now waiting for the investigation wheels to finish turning. The Coroner Heather Spooner is unlikely to hand down her findings till January.
Frank never expected his mum to live long. But she should not have gone when she did. Not like that.
His dad doesn't know - wouldn't understand - that his wife has died. Nor how she went.
For that one, small mercy, Frank is grateful.
Click for Updates, More Cases and Resources
Search LABELS for More Resources