The High Court is hearing an appeal by Southern Cross, the largest private provider of residential care for the elderly, against the decision of the Commission for Social Care Inspection [CSCI] to order the immediate closure of the Alton Centre, one of its care homes in Northamptonshire. Their decision was based on findings of neglect and inadequate care in respect of three residents who died in tragic circumstances.
This unhappy state of affairs brings into sharp focus the whole ethos of care homes, the breakdown of family life and responsibility for ageing parents, and the ever increasing tendency towards “park and ride.” Park the oldsters in a care home, and ride off into the sunset.
There is also the somewhat naïve belief that once “parked,” they will be afforded the best possible care and treatment that money can buy, depending of course on how much money is available. In care homes, just as in any other walk of life, you get what you pay for!
Old age is upon us as never before. With better medical provision, oldsters who would be expected to turn up their toes in their seventies barely a generation ago, are now hanging on, like grim death [if you’ll forgive the pun], and living longer and longer. Ninety plus is no longer the exception, and put bluntly, love for an elderly relative can reach breaking point very quickly once Anno Domini kicks in, the joints begin to seize up, and worse still, when they’re away with the fairies. The elderly must bear their share of the blame. They become incontinent, they need feeding, they dribble into their soup, they can’t or won’t help around the house, and they become insufferably curmudgeonly. If they give the matter any serious thought, and all too often they don’t, they should appreciate the strain they place on their loved ones in an increasingly nuclear family unit.
And with blind faith, we persuade ourselves that these care homes will provide our elderly loved ones with the care and support they wouldn’t otherwise get at home, although we delude ourselves into thinking this is a meaningful and dignified way to end their days.
Whilst the case against the Alton Centre, if proved, is deplorable by any standards, these providers are often onto a hiding to nothing. Staffing is a nightmare, with turnover reaching epidemic proportions. Health and safety regulations come before all else, so there is little time and effort left over for ‘caring.’ Southern Cross has 720 homes and a total of 37,000 beds, so sooner or later, something is bound to go wrong. And when it does, we blame them and not ourselves.
There is a lot of guff trotted out by the administrators of care homes, who, let’s face it, are in it for the money, about the quality of life, the chance to interact with other like minded people, make new friends, join in a variety of exciting and stimulating activities, and live their twilight years to the full. In reality, this means dumping them in front of the television for hours on end, and when they’re not glaring at the ‘idiot box,’ they’re glaring at each other, waiting for their next meal and then off to bed before the sun has set.
There is no easy answer, least of all euthanasia. It’s easy for me to say that I shall go when the time is right, when I have run the race of life in full measure, and well before I lose my physical and mental faculties. But I am the worst placed to make these decisions, because each day brings new hope and if there is the faintest chance of a recovery of sorts, then I should be allowed to enjoy it.
The future is grim indeed. If I live into my nineties, I won’t have enough money to support myself comfortably, as pension plans, both state and private, are not geared to longevity. I shall need the help and support of my children, but they have their own agenda, with spouses and children of their own who must come first. God forbid that I perish in pain, and without dignity, but there is no certainty in life, or in death. For the time being, all I can say is: “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” and hope it doesn’t happen to me.
There is no easy solution. Many communities, especially in the second and third world, actively embrace the concept of the extended family and cherish their nearest and dearest as they grow old. But that’s not our way. We pursue our selfish dreams of health, wealth and happiness on our own terms, and elderly relatives don’t fit the mould.
Time for a large scotch and a good cigar. When I go, I want to go with a smile on my face and a warm glow.