It’s good to see the Retirement Commissioner investigating companies running retirement villages. We need a similar investigation into the actual care for those at the end of their life in retirement homes.
All rest homes and aged residential care facilities are certified and audited to ensure they: provide safe, appropriate care for their resident. Sounds good and just as it should be but I do wonder how many of these places are randomly inspected.
In the last few years I have visited friends in rest homes, not just in Otautahi but in other parts of the country as well. What I have seen worries me about the quality of life and care many of my friends and acquaintances receive while the companies which run the facilities make extraordinary profits.
A sample of things that have worried me include: a woman asks for a drink but does not get it because they have decided to limit her liquid intake as “she may wet herself” thereby giving “extra work” to her carers; another woman has to wait 20 minutes before someone is free to take her to the toilet because she had been “toileted at lunchtime”; residents moved from their rooms to the lunch room by 11.30 to stare at the table as lunch is not until 12 noon.
I entered one facility to see six people sitting around in large wheeled recliner chairs with big pink feeders on. They and the other 30 plus people having lunch were then wheeled out into a large day room with a large TV screen. A single carer sits at the front with a laptop and the residents look at a static picture on the screen. The time is approximately 12.45pm, the next “entertainment” doesn’t start till 1.30pm.
One woman on a walker tries to leave but the woman with the laptop calls out for someone to bring her back which happens. She might fall, break her hip or do other damage and there is nobody to walk with her. We take my wheelchaired aunt on a tour around the lovely garden which despite being in the facility for a number of years she has barely seen, she names all the plants. Clearly it is a very long time since some of the clients have been outside.
Someone comes in who is taking a vanload of people on an outing. It is not a matter of staff asking who would like to go. That has already been decided by the carers. Only the “easy to manage” ones go.
I wonder when any of these people last had the paper read to them. When do staff have time to read a book to a group of them? Do babies and little ones ever visit?
A relative who specialises in geriatric nursing care says many of these people would not be in this situation if from day one they had been ‘walked’ a couple of times a day. Of course there are not enough staff to walk people or enrich their lives in other ways as there ought to be.
I feel deeply for the predominantly Filipino staff who are poorly paid but are genuinely caring about their charges. Whilst it gives them jobs I know many of them wonder why we so callously do this to our citizens in their senior years. How many of the nurses have been trained in the care of geriatrics, indeed how many of the staff are trained nurses. We know these places are understaffed with cheap labour because of the profits required for investors.
Why has it got to this, why haven’t we learnt from other countries, why do we as part of the Western World think this is the only way to care for the elderly? Why have we not learnt from Māori who in the main do not put their kaumatua into these places?
In the non-Western world the old are revered; they are kept within the family circle, not ‘put into’ care. The glossy ‘advertisers’ that regularly come with my newspaper and the endless adverts for those competing to get new “clients” only tell a small part of the story. The nice family-friendly bit, fine when you are fully able.
So what needs to change? Firstly, we need more in-home care for the elderly to keep them contented and feeling valued in their own homes in their own communities for much longer. In other words keeping their homes clean, keeping the meals interesting and tasty and help with showering and the mental health care, visitors and outings.
Secondly, we need smaller places in communities, housing 10-12 people where people in the community can visit, with babies, with children, with animals, to read to them.
Caring for the young, pre-schoolers or for the elderly should not be done as a money-making exercise. It should be about making sure these people get the best of whichever end of life they are at.
Instead of treating our elderly with dignity and respect we seem to have large “farming” operations. Every dollar these elderly residents spend from their savings or that they receive from government subsidies should go to their care rather than as profits for big companies.
Bronwen Summers is a Mum, grandma, gardener, foreign film goer, reader of good literature and political activist