Compelling case for caring for our older people


SHOCKING STATISTIC A HIQA report found that only 123 of the 581 nursing homes in the Irish State were fully compliant with regulations.

Ageing is inevitable. It is a fundamental precept of life. It also seems inevitable that an increasing percentage of us will end our lives in the care of staff in nursing homes. Families no longer have the time or structures to care for their older members. Gone is the day when the granny or grandad sat in the out-chat beside the open fire rocking the cradle of the latest addition to the family while the mother made bread or tended to the hens and the father weighed the anchor of his currach or headed off to the bog to foot the turf.
While not romanticising those more simple times – so poetically eulogised by Éamon de Valera in that famous speech on March 17, 1943 – one can argue that they were more caring and inclusive times. Well, life was simpler. Expectations were not commandeered by consumerism. Older people were still the elders of our society. They passed on the wisdom of their years to the young.
They were treated with the respect they deserve.        
Instead, these days, so many are consigned to nursing homes, either owned by the State or by private individuals or groups. There are huge profits to be made from this system of placing the elderly and infirm into care for their last years.   
This makes it all the more concerning that less than a quarter of nursing homes were fully  compliant with regulations established by the State’s watchdog, HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) when inspected during 2018. In an overview report published by HIQA last week it was revealed that of the 581 nursing homes in the State, only 123 were fully compliant with the regulations.
The report cited concerns over fire safety and evacuation procedures. It also noted that nursing home residents were at a disadvantage in the receipt of services normally free in the community, such as physiotherapy, chiropody, aids like walking sticks and wheelchairs.  
While acknowledging progress in certain areas of care, the report noted that the physical environment in some nursing homes is not conducive to the provision of person-centred care in a dignified and safe manner.  
Surely, ensuring that the older people of our society live out their days in a ‘dignified and safe manner’ is the very least we should  expect? Is it not our moral duty to ensure that institutions of the State – and, indeed, those that are privately run – adhere to the highest standards of care? Have we not learned enough lessons from the reports exposing the inhumane treatment of our vulnerable citizens in the so-called Magdelene Laundries and various industrial schools? Abuse does not need to be overt or extreme for a vulnerable person’s rights to be undermined. Indeed, minor neglect – such as leaving an older person sitting in soiled clothes – ensures a loss of dignity, doesn’t it?
It must be welcomed that the report confirms that significant progress has been made in a number of areas. It must also be acknowledged how hard staff – carers, nurses, administrators and owners – work to ensure that their clients are comfortable and not distressed.
However, as HIQA’s Director of Regulations and Chief Inspector of Social Services, Mary Dunnion, remarked about the 31,000 people living in nursing homes in the country: “They should expect to receive safe care that meets their specific needs, and should be assured that their home is being well managed. Our inspections found that this was the case for a large number of people, but many vulnerable older people continue to receive care in a physical environment that is not conducive to providing care in a dignified, safe and personalised manner.”
Isn’t it  up to each and everyone of us to be vigilant for our loved ones, and for those who have no one to advocate for them?