Have you ever scouted a home for the aged?
Or worse yet, have you had to place a relative at one of these elderly “care” facilities?
I feel your pain.
So-called old folks’ homes are a national scandal.
Well, most of them.
There are a few – only a few – that provide exemplary round-the-clock care, with available medics and counselling services, devoted professionals, nutritious meals and snacks, relevant facilities and overall appropriate attention.
With the Trinidad and Tobago elderly now notching 200,000 (the 2010 survey had the figure at 156,000, about 12 per cent of the national population), there is growing need for these facilities.
In fact, in the current fast-paced TT, where most family members must peg down a job, geriatric homes have grown into a virtual cottage industry.
Several operators convert minimal floor space into elderly lodging, and do not bring the requisite administrative skills, enabling environment and personal temperament to the project.
It is a good ole’ Trini hustle!
As a result, many residents are cramped into bare communal facilities, and sit all day with forlorn looks and with little opportunity for recreational and social engagement.
Some geriatrics endure abuse.
The homes are waiting-to-die camps.
The national shocker is not about the disgraceful state of these habitats: That has long been known to all who have accessed these facilities.
The jolt is that this half-baked, miserable activity operates under the noses of the authorities, with 216 of 217 homes being unregistered.
Equally stunning is that the industry remains unregulated because of the absence of legal authority for the Division of Ageing (DOA), a unit of government ministry.
Cynics would put this as further evidence of a breakdown of all national institutions.
Or as additional proof that “Trinidad is not a real place”!
After all, the stark revelation emerged only as a result of an enquiry by a bi-partisan parliamentary joint select committee, chaired by Independent Senator Paul Richards.
The committee deserves our appreciation.
But it is damning that the relevant ministry never took appropriate amid occasional media and other reports about abuse and poor facilities.
This is a huge indictment on the ministry’s leadership.
The situation is compounded by the curtailment of the home-care Geriatric Assistance Programme (GAP), as a result of funding issues.
Richards is correct in his injunction that “a cultural shift … is required” and that “the State must set benchmarks for the standard of care.”
To be sure, though, this is not a condemnation of all public officers involved in geriatric care: It is denunciation of the authorities.
Dr. Yvonne Rouse, the charming and convivial director of DOA, reported earlier this year on elder abuse at care-giving facilities.
In addition to regulating geriatric homes, there is urgent need for provision of relevant all-round services and formulation of official policies, especially since the T&T population is an aging one.
After all, the way a society treats its elderly is a testament to its maturity.