Minister of Health , Donville Inniss and Manager of the Geriatric Hospital, Everton Alleyne looking at some of the equipment in the laundry room of the Geriatric Hospital during yesterday’s tour. 

A senior government official has promised that the Ministry of Health will continue to take a holistic approach to the care of the elderly in this country.

Minister of Health, Donville Inniss gave this assurance yesterday while briefing the media on a tour taken of the Geriatric Hospital at Beckles Road. Acknowledging that the Geriatric Hospital and the three district hospitals across the island provided residential care for about 625 individuals, the Minister said, “There is always that constant pressure on the institution.”

He noted, nonetheless, that Government would continue to support and expand the alternative care programme for the elderly, where a subsistence is provided to private day care facilities that care for elderly folk who cannot be taken care of through the established geriatric institutions. According to the Minister, “at the present moment, there are just over 200 individuals whose care is being subsidised by the Government of Barbados in these residential facilities.

“We recognise the challenges we are having in the wider society as an ageing population; where there is naturally that additional pressure that is brought to bear. We also recognise the changing family environment, where a lot more individuals, these days, are out to work and there is no one at home to care for the old father and mother, and as a result Government may have to find some innovative ways of providing assistance for families who have to care for their elderly,” Minister Inniss said.

He warned, however, that care for the elderly could not only reside with
Government residential and day care facilities. He said: “…we will certainly have discussions with the Ministry of Finance in respect of incentives that may be offered to those families who would wish to care for their elderly within the home environment, but who may have financial challenges there.”

Accepting that there was also a role for the community, the new Health Minister said, “We certainly have to work with wider community service groups, in particular, to see what new ideas and new programmes we can bring to the table to ensure that the care for the elderly is taken back into the community. These older folk deserve much better than being institutionalised, particularly when they are in pretty good health and we certainly want to ensure that the community plays a much more meaningful role in respect of the care of the elderly…”

While disclosing that to expand the alternative care for the elderly programme would have its own budgetary constraints, Minister Inniss said he would like to see emphasis placed on the elderly being taken care of in their own home setting.

He stressed: “We need to get away as a people from the view that once you have reached a certain age and you are confronted with some physical and mental challenges that you need to be institutionalised. We never know what would happen to anyone of us; and I believe that as a society we would be judged, perhaps harshly, in respect of how we care for our older folk."

It was also revealed that some pressure on the Geriatric hospital was caused by pressure exerted on the QEH, with the abandonment of the elderly at the latter institution. The Health Minister said a holistic approach to the care of the elderly would call for collaboration with other social care institutions, including the National Assistance Board, the Welfare Department and the Ministry of Housing, on some new policies and programmes.

In relation to the housing needs of the elderly, Mr. Inniss said: “we have to pay greater attention to the housing solutions for the elderly. I encounter too many old people in the island who still have to amble up steps to get into their homes, who may need ramps, and special bathroom facilities. So certainly it has to be a collaborative approach to this whole matter of care for the elderly, involving all the stakeholders in Government and in the non-governmental organisations, who have a vested interest in elderly people.

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