Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Don't get old!

I thank 'Metal Guru' for allowing me to reproduce his article 'Don't Get Old':

Rooms full of lonely faces, bodies swiveled on chairs directed at the incessant drivel of daytime TV, the lingering smell of palliative air freshener. Lurid coloured corridors, easily recognised symbols on bathrooms and toilets, photographs of residents on doors - miniature snapshots of forgotten destines.

An old man with a crutch walks slowly along, muttering through folded face and thinking about his property in Australia. Approaching him, a crooked-framed old woman with a hand on the railing for support asking 'Can somebody take me home now please?'.

Privately funded care homes provide the prospect of an undignified and unhappy twilight for the ever-increasing pensioner population. Specific problems such as insufficient staff, low pay and long hours - added to varying quality of care and kindness - contribute to the, intrinsically flawed, concept of offering care as a commodity.

Commercial organisations, like all other, enter the private care industry to make and maximize profit. All cost cutting is fair game as long as they adhere to the standards proscribed by the regulatory bodies and therein lies the problem. These regulations only serve as a template for a uniformity of service that has little bearing on 'caring'.

The predominant term used to refer to residents in private care homes is 'service users'. The individuality of each 'service user' is systematically degraded by these, humanity free, intellectually constructed procedures considered to offer the highest quality of care.

While the residents sit compliantly in a state of partial dormancy - healthcare assistants, nurses, cleaners and catering staff chew their pencils and twiddle their thumbs whilst undergoing a strict regime of training videos and practical demonstrations on manual handling.

Nurses ceaselessly update each of the residents' personal care files, uninterested in properly monitoring the work of their healthcare assistants, because the important thing is, when the government inspectors come knocking, that all training and paperwork is up-to-date for this is what will provide a good inspection review.

On the face of it, perfect standards of care have been exhibited. All staff have received the relevant training - properly recorded in the 'staff training matrix'; all paperwork on individual care and medical consultations have been completed, all daily food menus are nutritionally balanced to conform to recommended catering standards. In every hallway, stairwell and lift there are pictures demonstrating the service users happily enjoying activities such as reveling in the excitement of a monthly entertainer.

The reality is, however, that care, dignity and fairness are abstract concepts, unable to be taught. Staff who attend training courses on dignity, for example, with the rewarded title of 'dignity champion' as their incentive for completion, learn concrete examples of how to treat someone with dignity. The problem is that examples a, b, & c become the actual qualifiers of dignity rather than harbingers of its actuality.

The concept being if a, b, & c are manifest, then dignity is ensured. This is of course not the case. So the best any home can hope for is where the a, b, & c throughout all of the systems of good care, have been ticked off. The quality of a resident's life is formularized by calculable factors that bare little to no relation to the happiness of a resident and actively seek to undervalue the nature of their individuality.

Their days routinely consist of being herded from their beds to the lounge, lounge to the dining room, to the toilet, to the bathroom, back to bed. In between, they sit, predominately confused about where they are and why nobody has come to collect them!

Their slightly impaired physical or mental functions become exacerbated by unfamiliar surroundings and a profound sense of abandonment. The disturbing irony is that such deteriorations will be labeled and explained as a medical affliction disconnected to their residential environment.

Usually within a year they have plummeted to mere shadows of the people who arrived. Stripped of their use, their habits, their possessions and their freedom, they slowly discolour in body and soul.

Granted it takes longer for some - for those who get daily visitors, those who take residence as a married couple - and bizarrely, for those who have illnesses that require constant or specialised nursing. They more frequently embody an aura of resignation that tries to make the best of it.

And the most harrowing aspect of the whole situation is that government run care homes are unlikely to be any better - perhaps worse. Instead of cost cutting to increase profits, as well as ineffectual regulation, there would be cost cutting measures aimed at keeping government expenditure down and ineffective internal regulation.

So the only advice can be: don't get old! The growing acceptance of rabid consumerism and unbridled selfishness has filtered into every nook and cranny of society and is reflected in the industry of elderly care as well as any other. The businesses make their money, the old folks are out of the way and we, the children and grandchildren of this forgotten portion of society, can continue with our pursuit of pleasure.

Meanwhile, the old man stops walking lengths of the corridor and forgets about his property in Australia; the crooked-framed old lady stops asking to be taken home and thousands and thousands across the land are told: 'sit down and wait'.

Wait for what? - wait until there is no more waiting...

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