Two Auckland health and disability providers have been ordered to pay compensation for illegally keeping a woman in a dementia unit for more than a year.
The 43-year-old woman described the unit as being "worse than a prison" and it was discovered she was being held illegally only when she was assessed by an outside agency.
The woman has since died and the confidential payments will go to her daughter, Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill said on Wednesday.
He took the woman's case to the Human Rights Tribunal, which ruled Taikura Trust and Aranui Home and Hospital Limited - trading as Oak Park Dementia Unit - should pay compensation for failures of care and breaches of the woman's rights.
Mr Hill said the case was a significant one with a clear message for the sector.
"It is essential to get the basics right."
A highly vulnerable person had been inappropriately detained for an extended period in a secure dementia unit without the appropriate legal safeguards in place, he said.
The woman, who had suffered severe psychological trauma, depression and alcohol abuse, was admitted to Auckland City Hospital in 2007.
Staff assessed her as not being able to make decisions about her own care and an application was prepared for a court order to place her in care.
But it was never filed.
It was assumed the court order was in place and the Taikura Trust put her into Oak Park, a secure dementia unit.
She believed she was legally required to live there, despite wishing to leave and clearly expressing her frustration at having to live in the dementia unit, where she was unhappy and increasingly depressed.
In August 2008 the Community Alcohol and Drug Service discovered there was no court order so she could not be kept at Oak Park.