The Irish Times view on elder care: a worrying lack of empathy

Waterford City and County Council's response to the needs of vulnerable tenants is truly depressing

A lack of official empathy for the elderly, who are widely regarded as a burden on the State, is reflected in the nursing home sector. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

A lack of official empathy for the elderly, who are widely regarded as a burden on the State, is reflected in the nursing home sector. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The care of elderly and disabled people has never been a priority with government agencies or local authorities, but the manner in which Waterford City and County Council has responded to the needs of vulnerable tenants is truly depressing. It allowed a waiting list for home adaptations to develop while, at the same time, failing to spend money provided by the Department of Housing. Now, under the spotlight of public opinion and having engaged in a “comprehensive review” of the situation, it appears to be engaging in a blame game.

Last year, when the department allocated €300,000 for adaptations the local authority only spent €190,000. This year, Waterford asked for €500,000 but was allocated €210,000. It then complained about a shortage of funding. There is no certainty that, even if the full amount had been allocated, the money could be spent.

A lack of official empathy for the elderly is also reflected in the nursing home sector

In this instance, the department increased its annual funding to Waterford while keeping a tight rein on national spending. Age Action is seeking the establishment of a larger home adaptation fund and a streamlining of the application process.

A local authority tenant who, because of a medical condition, applied to have an open-access shower fitted two years ago, has been told there is a six-year waiting list for assessments. A two-year waiting period applies to many Waterford tenants already approved for grants because of “budget constraints”. This cannot be directly blamed on the department. A shortage of council-employed occupational therapists to conduct assessments may be at the heart of the problem. This failure by the council to prioritise the needs of elderly and disabled tenants is worrying.

A lack of official empathy for the elderly is also reflected in the nursing home sector. Proposals to charge for previously free services are being considered in Government while efforts are being made to cut the number of State-run nursing homes still further. At present, the private sector operates three-quarters of all nursing homes and they are undergoing a process of consolidation. Concerns remain about funding for an upgrade of ageing State-owned nursing homes.

A review of the sector by Hiqa has found that fewer than one in four homes are fully compliant with regulations. It expressed particular concern about fire-safety and evacuation procedures and referred a number of residences to the fire-safety authorities. Other perennial issues were Garda vetting of staff in some nursing homes and ensuring privacy for patients.

Only half of the residences run by the HSE complied with the Garda vetting requirement. Hiqa also found “significant delays and a lack of priority” in meeting the medical card needs of patients in private nursing homes. Such official penny-pinching behaviour must stop.

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