The enthusiasm of the Commissioner of Police to continue his interventions into organisations and facilities that provide substandard care for the elderly and mentally ill is a welcome addition to the voices that were raised in response to the conditions at Transformed Life Ministry. But it’s unlikely that the 69 people who were found at the centre in Arouca are all the people who are suffering substandard conditions of care in circumstances over which they have no control.
So the CoP’s promise to “parang from house to house” might have made for great news copy but doesn’t pan out well in practical terms. For one thing, such engagements do little to change circumstances in which many of our elderly, infirm and disabled are either unable to care for themselves or are marginally able to in their own homes through a range of mitigating personal circumstances.
The Ministry of Social Development manages these critical issues with the elderly, infirm and disabled across three divisions. The Social Welfare Division evaluates the infirm and disabled for the award of small financial support grants on a monthly basis. The Division of Ageing has direct responsibility to “control, monitor and regulate Homes for Older Persons, Type I and II.”
The non-governmental unit, which is responsible for registering, contracting with and generally assist NGO’s in delivering relevant services. This division has a direct responsibility to “ensure compliance” with established norms in social services delivery.
Police intervention should be the last consequence in a hierarchy of evaluation, accreditation and monitoring that should be the norm for any facility that offers support services for the elderly, infirm or disabled in this country. That these conditions were discovered in a facility that received significant financial support from the government only makes the lapses these critical controls even more troubling.
Going forward there needs to be a more meaningful link between the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of National Security in creating a task force with teeth, as it were that would be responsible for acting on field reports from social workers and concerned citizens. It must also be empowered to enforce temporary shutdowns or outright closures of facilities ordered by the ministry on institutions that don’t meet a clearer and more robust local standard for the delivery of such services.
What happened in Arouca was a national embarrassment, a situation, and circumstances that evolved without adequate oversight and was rightfully busted for its flagrant disregard of the humanity of people meant to be receiving care.
It would be to our ongoing shame if we did nothing to improve monitoring of these services and to address the institutional missteps that led us to that dark place.