Senior care: I have confidence in NOSPC

By Jeanne Atherden

Minister of Health, Seniors and the Environment

There has been a series of articles in the press this week highlighting concerns about the care provided to seniors. While I don’t agree with all of the information presented in the articles, I am sure that for the people involved, the events were terribly traumatic and that they understandably feel they were not adequately served.

 If a member of the public did not receive a response to their concerns from the National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged (NOSPC), or they do not feel that their needs were met, I offer my sincerest apology.

From what I have been able to ascertain, the incidents highlighted all took place some time ago. While I cannot go back and change what happened, I can say that we have new staff at the NOSPC who are dedicated, caring people who have the best interest of seniors and the disabled at heart. Although they have only been in place for a relatively short time, they have already had a positive impact on office operations.

In addition, knowing that staff at the NOSPC would be retiring, we commissioned a review of the office’s roles and responsibilities and staffing needs. I now have the completed report, which is being reviewed to determine additional changes needed.

What has become apparent is the need to clearly define those things for which the NOSPC is responsible and those things for which it is not responsible.

Clearly, enforcement is one of the NOSPC’s functions, and we have taken steps to ensure that effectiveness in this area is improved. Enforcement of the Residential Care Homes and Nursing Homes Act and Regulations is key to ensuring public and private care homes are held to a high standard. This is the reason we introduced a minimum of two unscheduled inspections a year at each home. If that high standard is not met and maintained, the home must be closed. The Senior Abuse Register Act must also be upheld to ensure that reports of senior abuse are properly investigated and that those who are convicted of senior abuse are properly recorded in the register.

The NOSPC also has a role to play in educating the public on how to select a care facility for their loved one. Families do this for their children when selecting a nursery school or child day care facility and they need to be encouraged to make the same effort when selecting care for their seniors.

Families need to be involved and stay involved in the care of their children and seniors. The aim should be to have seniors stay in their own home, in a safe and supportive environment where they can be close to those who love them the most, with outside support provided as appropriate.

The NOSPC helps families to identify home care and other support services. It also assists with referrals to other Government agencies and charitable organisations.

The NOSPC is also investigating the introduction of certification or accreditation for care homes. The Act and Regulations deal with bricks, mortar, staffing and qualifications, but do not speak directly to more qualitative aspects of care, such as the quality of meals provided and the type and appropriateness of activities. These are more subjective qualities that are typically assured by accreditation.

In reviewing the historical files, I have been struck by the fact that many of the senior abuse complaints that come to the NOSPC are often the result of family disputes. I encourage families to put aside their differences for the sake of solutions that serve the best interest of their senior. This would not only reduce the number of complaints received, but also allow the NOSPC to make the best use of its resources.

I want to take this opportunity to express my confidence in the staff at NOSPC. They are working hard to ensure that people receive the best service possible. Again, I apologise if families do not feel that their concerns were properly dealt with in the past. It must also be emphasised that, owing to confidentiality restrictions, it is often difficult for the NOSPC to counter some of the claims made and the accuracy of those claims.

Although the press articles give the impression that all care homes in Bermuda provide substandard care, I can assure the public that this is not the case.

There are many homes that are well-run and have dedicated and caring staff members who work and provide care in a pleasant and homelike atmosphere.

In the weeks ahead, I will be appointing a new Seniors Advisory Council. This will include a broad cross-section of the community who will serve as a policy resource for the ministry and be tasked with finalising a National Ageing Plan. As a community, we have to encourage and support collaboration, co-ordination and action across all sectors to address the opportunities and challenges of ageing.

I want also to acknowledge the advocacy groups that have come forward since I have been minister to share their concerns and present their ideas on how seniors can be better served. Their insights have been very helpful and their role will be vital as we work together to implement the ministry’s vision of “Ageing Well in Bermuda”.

I would like to end by noting that some good has come from this week’s media spotlight in that we have received more calls from members of the public who are concerned about the care that seniors are receiving — often in their own homes. The articles have certainly increased public awareness and reinforced the need to ensure timely communications with the individuals who raised the concern.

We are working hard to strengthen the effectiveness of the NOSPC and the quality of service it provides. It is through good service and working with families that we can do best for our seniors. I am very encouraged by the spirit and commitment of the staff and by the direction in which we are heading.

Making things work better for the people of Bermuda is a big part of this Government’s mission. As Minister of Health, Seniors and the Environment, it is my particular responsibility to make sure we deliver for our seniors. I take this responsibility very seriously and will continue to report to Bermuda on challenges and progress as we move forward.

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