Wednesday 16 January 2019

Terry Prone: Who would want to move into a care home now?

The tragedy of Rostrevor House is like an onion. Peel off one layer and another is revealed. But even the very first layer is a horror.

The thought of an old lady being brought to the toilet by a man is puzzling, when female staff would have been available. No woman wants to be in a toilet with a man, but a woman in her 70s or 80s, even if she was suffering dementia would find it weird and scary. That a male care worker would insist on bringing a particular old resident to the toilet and that screams from the toilet would immediately and inevitably be heard, is frankly horrifying.

The owners of Rostrevor House have denied that this particular care worker ever did anything other than perform to the highest standards. They say the whole thing is a plot by other workers to take revenge on this particular man. What kind of human resources management is going on when one set of workers feels so hostile to a colleague that they're prepared to bring the entire enterprise down in order to "get" him?

Another layer is the history of the operation -- the sexual abuse proven in the past and the striking off the nurses register of one of the operators. Nobody in the medical profession gets struck off in a casual way for minor infractions.

The implications of the HIQA decision roll on like a funeral drumbeat. It's all negative. Older residents who have lived in the home quite happily for some time will now have to be moved, out of the familiar surroundings where they know precisely where their room is and where the nearest loo is, and away from the community of fellow residents and staff.

Moving house has been proven to cause considerable stress. In this instance, the move is involuntary, not chosen by the residents, and in many cases unwanted. For them, the disruption is a major problem.

But the layers of the Rostrevor House issue go far outside the walls of the Rathgar residence. The story will have been read and watched and listened to this week by older people with a mixture of terror and confirmation: they always worried about how they would be treated if they ever had to go into a nursing home and now all of their worst suspicions have been confirmed.

For many of them, Rostrevor House is a potent reducer of freedom. They feel they cannot consider going into a nursing home, even if it had begun to appear as a good option.

"Please promise me you won't ever put me in a home," is the saddest request made of sons and daughters, as a parent moves into their 60s and 70s. The phrase "put me in a home" sums up all the coercion independent older people fear as they face the possibility that someone other than themselves will make a decision to uproot them from a house filled with warm memories and put them in an institution is the ultimate loss of freedom.

The Rostrevor House story has created a sense of impotence and mistrust in older people and in their loving families, seeking the best option for their parents.

That's the wider tragedy - the delivery of pointless pain to families all over Ireland.

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