Damned if they do, damned if they don’t…

When “this” (this = COVID 19) all started happening here in Aotearoa we all knew it would be just a matter of time until Aged Care services, especially care homes, would be in the spotlight. After all international reports showed that those over 70 years of age faced the worst outcomes.

It didn’t take long until we started hearing on the grapevine that indeed some services were closing doors, not allowing visits, restricting movements.

I was invited to speak on the Nine to Noon programme with other industry experts to discuss how the wider sector was prepared for the possible challenges of COVID19 (you can hear the interview here).

It didn’t take long for the emails to hit my inbox either. Two in particular are still present in my mind.

One argued strongly (one might even say aggressively) that facilities that should be locked down, that older people are vulnerable, that we should be learning lessons from Australia, that we weren’t doing enough. The tone was forthright, and it felt like righteous anger was pouring from the screen. And whilst it was a bit confronting – I sort of got it – I’ve been so sure and so definite about things in the past that I’ve got onto a keyboard and poured my soul into a passionate email or online response.

The other was equally passionate, and in this case indignant – aged care facilities should not be shutting families and visitors out. Did they not appreciate that socialisation was critical to an older person’s well-being? This email was furious that decisions had been made too quickly, with not enough consultation, that ‘corporate’ operators were in effect callous. They were clearly distressed that their loved one had not been able to receive their regular visitor.

And this is the dichotomy of the environment that our aged care providers appear to operate in too often. They are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

I’ve spent 15 years in this sector now and I have to say so much of what I see is pretty amazing given the restraints in the sector. Committed cleaners, cooks, grounds-people, leaders, trainers, operators, CEOs, care givers, nurses, drivers, activities staff; the list goes on and on of people and organisations who take pride in their work. And yes, I do see some people whose passion has dimmed over time and who might need to rediscover their purpose or find a new job, but these are the minority.

When we induct new staff into our business we get to see with our own eyes the transformation when they realise that what they ‘thought’ about older people and the older people’s sector is challenged. We develop champions for older people and real believers in the services that exist to support seniors. But how can we do this for EVERYONE?

How do we challenge society to both value our seniors but also to value the organisations and businesses that are there to support them? And how do we do this in a way that still allows us to challenge the system when it’s no longer in step with what we as a society and consumers might want?

It’s true, not everyone will live in a retirement village. Not all of us will need aged care in our lifetime. We might not need to join a day programme, or have someone help us with daily tasks…but we will know someone who will need some, or one of these services. So, we will be touched by a sector that is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

How can we change the narrative? How do we move from a blame game either way – to an understanding that these services are here to meet a need and that they require us to deliver feedback in a way that empowers and informs change? If we can find a way to get to this place, I believe we will develop an environment that fully allows and enables older people to live their best lives.

Any thoughts out there?

Email your thoughts to media@eldernet.co.nz


About Esther Perriam

Esther Perriam
Esther Perriam is a Director of Eldernet. She’s worked in the business for over 15 years and has been lucky to visit many of the older person’s services around the country. She’s never short of an opinion on…pretty much anything. Esther really loves reading and you’ll see plenty of book reviews authored by her. As a mother of two children there’s not much free time but if there is she also enjoys cooking (for grown-ups, not the kids!) and anything beach related in her spare time. Esther has presented at conferences around New Zealand and is happy to be contacted in regards to speaking or presenting at your event.