News day / The report noted that excessive bureaucracy has led to half of all complaints being dismissed on the ground of, ‘inconclusive evidence’.

And as allegations of abuse increase, especially with the advent of social media showing clear cut evidence of violence meted out to the elderly, successive governments have never instituted any investigations into how these private geriatric homes are operated with a view to ensuring the elderly are treated in a humane manner.

In fact, queries arise over which government agency should oversee these homes, with the report revealing that a grand total of six inspectors are tasked with monitoring the close to 200 registered private geriatric homes in the country. The claims of an increase in abuse against the elderly are contained in the third report by the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Social Services and Public Administration, which was recently laid in Parliament.

The report listed five types of abuse occurring at geriatric homes. These are Neglect – Failure to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and medical care; Physical – Infliction bodily harm and or injury; Financial Abuse – Illegal misuse or siphoning of an older person’s money, assets or property; Emotional/ Psychological Abuse – Harm inflicted on the emotional self-worth of the older person (eg name-calling or denigration); and Sexual Abuse – Engagement in sexual acts without consent.

ABUSE SHOWN ON FACEBOOK The report includes the record of the JSC’s sitting of November 16, 2016, where deep insight was given by Dr Jennifer Rouse, Director of the Division of Aging (DOA) of the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services. She said that in 2016, the DOA received 156 complaints, of which 100 cases were “compliance issues” and 56 were specific complaints of abuse.

Table 2 of the report said that out of all 156 complaints, 88 investigations were completed, 47 were in progress, 20 were inconclusive and just one case was sent to the police, after a video of a woman standing on an elderly male patient was posted onto Facebook prompting a public outcry.

“That one case that you saw with the police that was listed, that was the one that made the media where the care-giver had her foot on the chest of the elderly gentleman in a home,” Rouse told the JSC. Rouse gave the JSC the outcome of the 56 complaints of abuse. She said ten complaints were probed and deemed to be unfounded, while 25 complaints were still in progress, meaning they were partially or wholly verified and the home is being regulated for compliance so as to ensure no recurrence.

However she raised eyebrows when revealing that delays in investigation is a main reason why half of complaints of abuse ended up deemed inconclusive. “Twenty of those cases were inconclusive, in that the claims could neither be verified nor debunked,” Rouse related.

“Because what has happened to us, when the report is made, let us say we got a report that a person had physical abuse and there were bruises. Many times when the report is lodged at the division and a month or more has passed and we go in to investigate, there is no sign or evidence of that bruise.

15 COMPLAINTS A MONTH “It might have healed or whatever and we cannot verify or debunk that something went awry. So as a result we call those kinds of cases inconclusive.” Rouse said the DOA does follow ups, especially with more than one complaint is made against a given home. “We realize that this was just not a one off and we will follow up on that. But again, manpower does not allow us the latitude to really respond to all in respective times because of the frequency.” Rouse revealed that the DOA on average gets 15 complaints of elderly abuse per month, most coming from the community rather than geriatric homes.

D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Ancil Antoine asked how the DOA reports back its findings of elderly abuse to the Ministry of Health and how does that ministry respond? Rouse replied, “Some of the cases we have had to use the community police and then a report is generated for our files and we send a copy, so that the Ministry of Health knows what is happening, so that in their routine investigations of those homes, they also do a check to ensure that there was follow up, there is something remedial in place to avoid a recurrence.

That is the most that is done as present.” When Antoine asked if the Ministry of Social Development has any way to know if the Health Ministry takes action against these homes, Rouse replied, “No, not at this point.” Ministry of Social Development permanent secretary Jacinta Bailey-Sobers added, “That is out of our jurisdiction.” She said that the Private Hospitals Act states that privately-run homes for the elderly are defined as hospitals and so fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health. Ministry of National Security parliamentary secretary Glenda Jennings-Smith, insisted that if an assault takes place at a geriatric home, the police must be notified.

CASES UNDERREPORTED Rouse said, “A lot of the cases of elder abuse are under-reported, because we are relying on the trust that the home-owner will be ethical and follow the instructions and do it right, but some out of them out of fear, if they know that they are not in compliance in some other way, they will not just call the division or call the police.

“So we find that there is a tension there, and right now it is the neighbours, if they hear screaming or they hear noises at night, or they find out – they hear different sounds, they call us, but it is a very delicate area.” The JSC Report had several recommendations.

These included a proper delineation of responsibility between the Health Ministry and the Social Development Ministry, both streamline their efforts, and both be more proactive in monitoring all geriatric homes.

The Homes for Older Persons (HOP) Act 2007 must allow the line ministry to order the cessation of operations at homes under investigations. The JSC wanted more inspectors hired and more regular visits of geriatric homes.

The Act must empower the relevant ministry to inspect without permission any geriatric homes that do not have a licence.

The report suggested the use of CCTV equipment in geriatric facilities to monitor activities and deter staff from committing acts of abuse against residents. The JSC urged the creation of an Elder Justice Roadmap that states how to recognize, prevent and address elder abuse, and establish a hotline and other mechanisms to receive anonymous tipoffs of abuse.


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