Sage Advocacy is concerned that vulnerable older people and their care in nursing homes are being used as a political football as part of the wider debate about freeing up houses in response to the ongoing housing crisis.
There seems to be a view among some public representatives that there is a large stock of empty housing out there belonging to older people entering the Nursing Home Support Scheme which can be immediately made available if there are incentives to rent them out or to sell them.
Arising from Sage Advocacy’s day-to-day work with and on behalf of older people Sage Advocacy is aware of the perverse incentives that can arise when vulnerable older people are in hospitals or entering nursing homes. The current structure of the Nursing Home Support Scheme funding is an issue that requires review.
Some points which need to be considered by legislators.
- Some older people find that they have been ‘shoehorned’ into a nursing home after a period in an acute hospital. A key family member providing an element of care at home, usually an adult child and sometimes a spouse, who refuses to take a relative home, can effectively take possession of a property, dispose of their belongings and then rent it to their advantage. It is not unknown for Sage Advocacy to have to support a client who has found that the locks on their home have been changed while they were in hospital or in a nursing home for a temporary period.
- Some vulnerable older people are effectively forced into nursing homes not just because of a lack of home care but also because there is an unwillingness to consider anything other than nursing home care. The practice of institutionalising vulnerable people, in this case older people, because it is convenient is still, sadly, a feature of Irish Life.
- An older person entering a nursing home is not always in a position to make a clear decision as to whether or not they wish to apply for the Nursing Home Support Scheme. Sometimes, when a person recovers from a bout of delirium following an illness they want to and are able to return home with supports but find themselves owing money for a process that they did not give informed consent to and confronted with a range of challenges which effectively mean that they cannot return to their own home.
- There is currently no legislative protection of the rights of vulnerable people to prevent them being detained in places of care against their will. It suits selfish family members to gain easy access to and control of a valuable asset such as a home while saying that what they did was in the ‘best interests’ of the older person. Anything which incentives abuse of older people and gives rise to safeguarding issues is a matter of the utmost concern.
Sage Advocacy has long argued for a single tier integrated approach to support and care for older people covering home, respite and congregated care settings. There is an inbuilt bias in the current systems towards care in congregated care settings and this must be reversed. Playing around with the already complex Nursing Home Support Scheme is playing with the rights of vulnerable people.
While Sage Advocacy appreciates the concern of legislators to increase the number of houses available to address homelessness we caution against unresearched, ill-informed and dangerous spur of the moment decisions which, in effect, seek to address the vulnerabilities of younger people at the expense of adding vulnerabilities to older people.
Ronan Cavanagh, Cavanagh Communications: (086) 317 9731.
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