Call for overhaul of care system for seniors
Bermuda's overburdened care home system has “collapsed”, leaving many elderly Bermudians “virtually refugees in their own country”, a seniors advocate has claimed.
Carol Everson, a welfare caseworker for the Bermuda Legion, called for a drastic overhaul of the island's policies.
“Bermuda does not just need more care homes, it needs better-equipped, staffed and managed homes,” she said.
With plans falling through for a veterans' nursing home in St George's, Keeona Belboda, the manager of Ageing and Disability Services, also warned that the island's existing homes are “at capacity”, and that there is a “real gap” in dementia and Alzheimer's care.
“We have an abundance of residents out there who need placement, but there's nowhere for them to go,” Ms Belboda said. “That's something we have to look at in the very near future.”
Ms Everson pointed out that the three existing nursing homes that are properly qualified to take in patients with dementia — Westmeath Residential and Nursing Care Home, Sylvia Richardson Care Facility and Lefroy House — are full to capacity with closed waiting lists.
“Families are calling every day in the hope of securing a vacancy for a loved one,” she said.
Increased life expectancy, a trend occurring throughout the Western world, is placing a corresponding strain on services for the elderly.
This problem is exacerbated in Bermuda by a decrease in budgets across the board, as the Government attempts to reduce its deficit, a move that Ms Everson condemned as “deplorable”.
The last Government census, compiled in 2010, revealed a 29 per cent increase in the number of seniors on the island since 2000. In terms of the overall population, senior numbers rose from 11 per cent to 14 per cent. The Department of Statistics suggested that by 2030, this figure may spike to 22 per cent.
Some 22 homes with a total of 399 beds are listed under the authority of the Chief Medical Officer.
According to the Ministry's most recent data, provided by the Care Home Administrators, there are 368 seniors currently in homes and 31 available beds in the community; the majority of these are rest homes or assisted living beds. The waiting lists are held by individual homes.
“As the number of vulnerable seniors increases, the situation steadily worsens,” Ms Everson said.
She added that the Bermuda Legion is aiming to raise funds for a dedicated nursing home to help to care for some of its more than 200 Second World War veterans and their widows.
Plans were discussed to buy the Jerry's House in St George's from addiction charity Focus in late 2015, but the 3.3-acre property was ultimately withdrawn from sale.
“The present support structure for the elderly has collapsed under the weight of numbers,” Ms Everson said.
“Too many elderly Bermudians are now virtually refugees in their own country, with only a very uncertain future to look forward to in their final days.”
Ms Belboda said that ADS is attempting to offset the issue by encouraging families to look after their elderly relatives at home — with benefits and financial assistance offered to ease the burden of cost.
And although ADS does not place residents into care homes directly, its case managers can serve in an advisory capacity when required.
“When an individual's needs change, and they may require a more skilled level of care, then we have to look at potentially transitioning them into a residential care home,” Ms Belboda said.
“We make suggestions to families about the care needs of their relatives, and on the beds that are available in the community. The family is then responsible for orchestrating the move.”
Prospective care home operators looking to meet the market's demand must be driven by passion rather than profit margin, she advised.
“Rent, staffing, utilities — all of the costs add up, and there's not a lot of wiggle room left,” Ms Belboda said.
“We're very frank with people who want to run a care home, so they are very clear on what it takes to run one successfully.”
As well as considering new proposals, ADS is attempting to raise the quality of the island's existing care homes.
Facilities that were found to be beneath the acceptable standard have been given one year to reach full compliance or face closure.
“We have monthly meetings with each care home administrator, and they're really making strides to improve their standard of service,” Ms Belboda said.
“It's not going to happen overnight, but we have to be fair to our process and give them time to do so.”
A Ministry spokeswoman added: “The Ministry is keenly aware of the limitations of existing legislation and enforcement with respect to the regulations of homes.
“Accordingly, the 2015 Throne Speech noted our commitment to amend legislation to strengthen the protection of seniors, including modernising the residential care homes and nursing homes regulations to improve standards and enforcement powers. This work is under way, building on the Seniors Law Reform recommendations from the Seniors Advisory Council. The work is at early stages and the Ministry will update the public at the earliest opportunity.”