Mar 10, 2013 News
By Jenelle Willabus
The Palms Geriatric Institution located on Brickdam is easily one of Guyana’s longest serving institutions – the final home for thousands of our senior citizens.
First called the Alms House, it was designed by an Italian architect, Cesar Castellani, in 1874. Four years later, the buildings which still house the institution today were completed after careful and precise construction work by the Dutch. They housed in excess of 500 inmates back then, and were the responsibility of the Poor Law Commissioner under the British Colonial Rule. The institute served the needs of citizens including the mentally and chronically ill, as well as epileptics.
With a total of 14 wards the ‘Alms House’ at the time also catered for differently-able children. However the children’s ward was abandoned after several years.
The Poor Law Commission and the Social Assistance Department in the Ministry of Labour played an important role within the institution under the British and admissions were done through the Social Assistance Department on recommendations by social workers or sometimes by a minister of religion or through hospitals. However a few cases were sent through the Magisterial Courts.
As time went by, the Ministry of Labour under the British Colony added Health to its Ministry in 1968. The policies remained the same, but in 1973 under Minister Monty Harper, the Health Department went by itself and took with it the Palms as it is now known.
While many of the critical services are still offered at the Palms today there have been a few noteworthy changes in the operations, including several wards being abandoned.
The Palms Institution currently falls under the Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministries of Labour, and Human Services and Social Security. The establishment which now serves as a home for in excess of some 200 senior citizens is funded through budgetary allocations under the Ministry of Human Services. The services provided are also fuelled by donations from corporate entities and other agencies.
These services include physiotherapy, skin and public healthcare as well as recreational therapy. Daily activities are manned by the Administrator, Ms. Samantha Douglas, a Ward Sister, a Matron, a resident Doctor, cooks, Patient Care Assistants, a Medex, maids and porters.
Ms. Douglas, who has been at the helm for the past few months, said she loves being around the institution as it has been a whole new learning experience. She often takes time out from her regular duties as administrator to interact with the inmates and “there is always an intriguing story to listen to”.
Entry to the facility is determined after applications are investigated by the social worker and an assessment conducted by the administrator, the matron, the medex and the Director of Social Services. The two main criteria for admission are age and indigence. However, if persons are in abusive situations, they are facilitated. In most cases a person has to be 60 and older.
In some instances, a review of the circumstances of some residents who have been admitted may result in such persons being reintegrated into their families.
“Some of the stories of how persons ended up here are really sad. What we find in some cases is that greed by family members results in quite a few of the inmates being left here. In other instances we would hear of children putting their parents out.”
It is for this and other reasons a Social Worker is always on hand to offer emotional support to those inmates who need help to adjusting to their unfamiliar surroundings.
“While we find that many are comfortable and have quickly adjusted to their situation, there are others who fall into a state of depression, and for this reason lash out at our staff. But our staff includes Patient Care Assistants, who spend most of their time with the inmates.”
To this end, staffers are provided with in-house training and other opportunities.
In addition to daily medical checkups, provisions are also made for the seniors to get advanced medical attention when necessary, at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). Also, to make life a little entertaining, visits to different churches are organised, there are also concerts, fashion shows, board games for those interested, and a movie night.
Additionally, under the supervision of the institution’s staff, some of the residents can engage in craft activities while others read or exercise. There is a library and caring persons would normally come into the institution to read to the residents. The removal and burial of deceased residents is catered for by the administration. However this is only done for those who do not have relatives with the resources to do so.
This, however, from time to time poses one of the many challenges which the staffers face. According to Ms. Douglas, “it is in time of death that some of their stories are brought to light”.
“There are times when an inmate dies, then persons claiming to be family members would show up with various demands, but in these times we try to do what we know best and to give that inmate what they would have wanted.”
While death of course is inevitable, more often than not inmates are affected by the loss of a ‘friend’ as over the years they grow quite close to each other. There are instances where inmates are affected by others being relocated. Ms. Douglas explained that sometimes individuals have to be relocated from one ward to another because of circumstances beyond their control and something as simple as that takes a toll on an individual.
“We had an instance where we had to move a lady from one ward to another and she really took on the moving because she had grown close and accustomed to the other women in her old ward, and sometimes we had to allow her to visit her old ward until she got settled into her new ward.”
Meanwhile, while some are of the opinion that the Palms only provides the basics, staffers there work around the clock to ensure each inmate is given the care and attention that is needed.
For some staffers, working at the institution has been enlightening. The Matron, Ms. Gaimbmattie Latchman, said her stint has been very taxing, but nevertheless she thoroughly enjoys just providing “a listening ear” for some of the inmates. On a daily basis, her duty is to ensure all the wards are covered in terms of Patient Care Assistants and that those inmates who require advanced medical care from the GPHC get to that location and return safely.
“Once I’m finished with that I take time out to just walk the wards. You will always find an inmate with a story to tell…Standing there and listening almost always brightens someone’s day.”
For the Matron, as with other staffers, it is always sad to listen to the stories of abandonment.
“You will hear stories of inmates spending most of their youthful years working hard to take care of children and family, but as old age step in it appears as if they would have outlived their usefulness for their families, hence they are brought here, and in some cases totally abandoned.”
Meanwhile, the Administrator, Ms. Douglas, said like every institution the Palms has its share of ups and downs, but she and staff remain committed to providing the much needed services.
“In recent times, the level of care provided by the Palms has continued to improve. We have been overwhelmed with applications for admission… even from private other senior citizens’ homes. Currently, the institution is home to 115 males and 115 females, with dozens of pending cases waiting for admission. On a daily basis our inmates are afforded three square meals and a snack in keeping with their individual dietary chart.”
“Efforts are being made to improve on every service we offer. One area of concern, or I should say , one area in which I would like to see major improvements has to do with the relationship between inmates and the Patient Care Assistants.
“There will always be personality clashes, but we are working with our PCAs to teach them to be more tolerant and patient at the same time with the inmate and the other way around. Because of age and other factors some inmates can be very hostile to our staff.”
She pledges that the institution would “continue to strive towards making the home in which many of Guyana’s senior citizens will spend their final days as comfortable as possible”.
Only recently the Palms staffers were recognized for efforts in beautifying their surroundings as they placed first in the Independence ‘Bright up Guyana’ competition. The inmates were also given the opportunity to participate in a Mashramani Parade which was held especially for them.
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