Caring for care homes

Dr Faith BYisrael, Secretary for Health, Wellness and Social Protection - David Reid
Dr Faith BYisrael, Secretary for Health, Wellness and Social Protection - David Reid

ACTION on Tuesday by authorities in Tobago to relocate the residents of a senior citizens’ home is a welcome sign that the State is taking meaningful steps to address standards at such homes.

At a time when much attention is being paid to care homes and shelters generally – be it for children or for abused women – the need for enforced standards at elderly homes has often been overlooked.

There’s been a need to investigate the operations of such homes for a while now. Stories around the world, many horrific, that emerged during the earlier phases of the pandemic illustrated the risks posed by inadequate regulation.

The question of vaccination further shone a spotlight on what legislative tools are at the disposal of the State in managing these facilities.

According to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA)’s Division of Health, Wellness and Social Protection, breaches of the Private Hospital Act were discovered which necessitated Tuesday’s action.

But in truth it is likely that such statutory breaches of that specific law are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s going wrong at care homes.

It’s worth inquiring into the State’s measures to support and validate such facilities, the standards of operations expected, the degree of inspection and enforcement, and the standards that pertain to personnel in terms of recruitment, training and retraining.

Specific legal issues also require constant review and updating. For instance, the issues of advance directives and the need for consent in relation to basic things such as vaccination should be subject to parliamentary committee oversight on an even more regular basis.

There is also the very serious issue of the need for action by law-enforcement authorities when instances of abuse or negligence are unearthed. Not only should elderly homes be subject to centralised, independent oversight, but such oversight should be fused with action by legal authorities where appropriate.

This means more investment in regulation and in staffing prosecutorial bodies, at a time when the State is trying its best to cut corners and weather the global economic storm, elevated petrochemical prices notwithstanding.

But such measures are not only worth it when we consider the moral issues involved, they are an imperative.

For many families, the choice of putting a loved one into a home is a harrowing one, made all the more so by the worry that such homes may have the opposite effect of what is intended: they may harm instead of provide safe harbour. Yet for some families, there is really no choice but to take such a step.

With there also being an element of profit involved, it is essential that not only residents are protected from abuse, but families as a whole.

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"Caring for care homes"

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