As a result of the indiscriminate practice by some Barbadians of abandoning their elderly relatives at government-owned health care institutions, the elderly care facilities at the four district hospitals under the aegis of the Ministry of Health are now under severe stress and can only accommodate 625 individuals.
However, despite this and other challenges at these institutions, Health Minister Donville Inniss has given the commitment that his Ministry would, following assessment of some 34 seniors abandoned in the Accident and Emergency Department and other wards of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), "work closely with other social agencies to free up much needed bed space at the QEH."
The Minister stressed this during a meeting held recently with representatives from the QEH and the National Assistance Board (NAB), that examined the issue of abandonment of elderly persons at the hospital.
While noting that these facilities had not been well-maintained over the years, he outlined several problems facing the Geriatric Hospital on Beckles Road, Gordon Cummins District Hospital in Rock Hall, St. Thomas; the St. Lucy District Hospital, River Bay in St. Lucy and the St. Philip District Hospital, Jezreel, St. Philip.
He disclosed that two wards at the Geriatric Hospital were currently out of use because of renovations being undertaken.??The Health Minister said the roof of the St. Philip District Hospital, which was leaking, had made it necessary to move some patients and renovations on the St. Lucy District Hospital, which was damaged by Hurricane Lily two years ago, were nearing completion.
He also noted that the Elayne Scantlebury Home in Belleplaine, St. Andrew, a facility which mainly houses those physically and mentally challenged children (even though the average age is 45), was also in bad condition. "These challenges, coupled with an infectious disease outbreak, would place everybody at risk and put a lot of pressure on these hospitals," Mr. Inniss warned.
As part of the long-term solution, Mr. Inniss explained the Ministry was examining the issue of more facilities and considering utilising additional lands at the St. Lucy and St. Philip District Hospitals for expansion. "There were some architectural drawings, done a few years ago to expand the St. Lucy facility, as well as proposals to acquire some lands adjacent to the St. Philip District Hospital. Those two proposals are now under active consideration by the Ministry of Health," he noted.
Stating that funding would be sought from the Ministry of Finance, he maintained: "These developments are not going to happen overnight; I don’t see that happening for another two years or so. Meanwhile, some temporary solutions would have to be found."
Currently, the Ministry of Health shells out just under $7 million dollars to fund some 200 Barbadians in private nursing homes. This amounts to a cost of $1,600 to $1,800 a month, per individual, plus the cost of medical care. However, according to the Minister, no real cost-benefit analysis of the various public/private sector options had been undertaken in recent years.
While also committing to ensuring that this would become a common feature of the elderly care programme, Mr. Inniss promised: "The Ministry of Health will step up its investigations and monitoring of privately-run homes and insist that standards are no less than those we demand in the public institutions.
"We ought to be mindful that in the absence of a cost-benefit analysis, there is still the acceptance that there will have to be medical facilities to care for some of these individuals and private homes are not going to do that… unless you are going to have a private hospital doing this which we are not advocating,." The Health Minister explained.
He reiterated the need to address the fact that once a person is a ward of the state, the state should seek to recover some of the costs incurred, via their assets.
"I think that is the route that Barbados will have to also consider… We really cannot afford to provide these international standard facilities and services to all people… either do something about it now, or we are going to pay a high price for it down the road. It is not fair to the QEH, the NAB and the Ministry of Health. If we can institute that as a policy, backed by law, it certainly would allow us, with limited resources to care for more persons," Mr. Inniss underlined.