Aimed at establishing a well-rounded minimal health and social care standards for the elderly, a strategic consultation was yesterday held at the Hadfield Street, Georgetown Regency Suites Hotel.
The forum, according to Dr. Umadia Rattan, Coordinator for Men and Elderly Health within the Ministry of Public Health, was planned with the view of ensuring that elderly health care is taken to the next level in Guyana. Moreover, the forum saw in attendance a number of representatives who are already playing a key role in elderly health care.
In order to achieve its goal, Dr. Rattan said that the Public Health Ministry is collaborating with the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation [PAHO/WHO].
Representing PAHO/WHO yesterday was Dr. Christen Alonzo, a Geriatric Specialist, who is also the consultant for elderly care in this part of the Region.
“We have her here to consult with us and to help us form better guidelines and to revise the ones we have,” said Dr. Rattan, who regarded yesterday’s forum as a learning process.
As she took into consideration that there are a number of elderly homes in Guyana [some free and others paid for], Dr. Rattan said that “even if they are free, we still have to ensure that there is some sort of standards in these homes. We can’t just say we are going to put the elders in a home and just leave them there”.
Currently, the guidelines for elderly homes were derived by the Ministry of Social Protection in collaboration with other stakeholders, including the Public Health Ministry.
In a booklet form, the guidelines detail the minimal standards for the elderly homes, according to Dr. Rattan. The booklet, she revealed too, gives an outline of social minimal standards and living conditions that should be in place.
“The purpose of this is to ensure that even though these persons are in the homes, they are not just left there, there are certain things that should be ensured, certain quality of care, certain basic needs of life that they should have there like you would have in your own home,” Dr. Rattan explained.
To ensure that the minimum standards are adhered to, a Committee was established and is tasked with making routine visits to scrutinise the various homes. The Committee is authorised to visit all facilities registered under the Companies Act or Friendly Societies Act that provide residential care to citizens.
The Committee comprises a gerontologist, a nutritionist, a fire officer, superintendent of works, members of the Commission of the Elderly and managerial staff from the Social Protection Ministry.
However, in order to ensure that the guidelines are effective and meet the expectations of all stakeholders, the consultation was organised.
“So in addition to social minimal standards, we are also trying to establish health minimal standards, because a lot of the homes do not have medical practitioners, nurse practitioners, dieticians, and it is not any fault of their own, everything is costly…” Dr. Rattan underscored.
As such, she noted, “Our aim and our objective is to see how we could provide this information and provide guidelines for this to be done in a cost-effective manner”.
Also speaking at the forum yesterday was Ms. Abika Benjamin-Samuels, Deputy Director of the Social Services Department within the Social Protection Ministry. She revealed that the Social Protection Ministry first developed the minimum standards for elderly residential facilities in 2016 based on international best practices, and in accordance with international conventions and treaties to which Guyana is signatory.
The standards, she explained, were developed to guide and assist all elderly residential facilities with a framework and benchmark to improve the quality of care provided to the elderly.
The minimum standards, she said too, was done based on a review of existing minimum standards of elderly care facilities of countries around the world including Trinidad and Tobago, Ireland, Anguilla and South Africa. This, according to Benjamin-Samuels, was done to “facilitate the adoption of best practices and to avoid re-inventing the wheel on regulatory standards and operational procedures that have been tried, tested and proven”.
As such, she disclosed yesterday that the standards in place are as a result of a facilitative, consultative process with key stakeholders and duty bearers, and have been amalgamated with recognised best practices.
Introducing the standards was imperative since, according to the Social Protection Deputy Director, “over the years we have recognised that elderly care facilities have been operating unregulated in the absence of guidelines…”
In fact, she noted that in many instances, the elderly were housed in derelict buildings, abused by their caregivers, were fed meals that did not catered to their nutritional needs, and were deprived access to medical services.
According to Benjamin-Samuels, one of the many mandates of the Social Protection Ministry is to provide social welfare services to the people of Guyana, and the welfare of the elderly is no exception. She revealed that the elderly population of Guyana has grown over the years and will continue to grow.
As such, Benjamin-Samuels said, “the Ministry of Social Protection is committed to improving the quality of life of its seniors, particularly those in residential care.”
The minimum standards, she said, are aimed at ensuring that “persons are respected, treated fairly and with dignity and live a productive life; are in contact with those who are dear to them; are involved in making of decisions that affect their lives and receive quality care in a comfortable and secure environment”.
In 2017, the Committee tasked with visiting homes examined the operations of nine out of the 20 existing homes, and for this year three homes have been visited to date.
“What we have found thus far is that many of the facilities visited are being managed by charitable organisations and individuals who are moved to help the elderly, but they need more financial resources, training, experience, improve regulations to successfully provide quality care to our seniors,” said Benjamin-Samuels.
She pointed out that these are some of the initial steps being taken by the Social Protection Ministry to commence the process of revolutionising the care of the elderly throughout Guyana.
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