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Monday, September 19, 2005 

Yiayia and Pappou Deserve Better

Could Yiayia be worried about living in a retirement home?

During the past month, retirement homes have been under fire in Greece for failing to meet even the most basic of standards to care for our nation's elderly. Inspections were carried out by the Athens Prefecture in response to the deaths of 5 elderly people from one home. Although only one of the deaths could be attributed to the person having consumed rotten meat, the other four had also suffered from gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines; can be caused by Salmonella enteritidis--Websters Online). Of the 11 homes inspected, 9 were found to be in breach of multiple health violations ranging from filthy premises to employment of illegal workers.

Once the findings were made public, apportioning the blame became the next step. Who is ultimately responsible for these crimes against the elderly? Is it the fault of the family as a Social Security minister would have us believe? Is it entirely the fault of the homes who operate on a shoestring budget in order to maximize profits for their businesses? Is it the fault of the Health Ministry for not monitoring the operations of the homes more closely to ensure the health and safety of our beloved family elders...an ever-increasing segment of our population?

I believe that all of them share some part of the blame for the horrendous way the elderly are treated in these homes.

Retirement Homes
The retirement homes are definitely accountable for providing, at the very least, decent living conditions for their residents. They aren't charities but businesses operating for profit but this does not mean they can escape the responsibility of having to provide the basics. If they can't do this without compromising the lives of the elderly, then they shouldn't be running a retirement home to begin with. Many complain that they simply cannot turn a profit on the amount of money the families pay them. Instead of reducing the care and health of their charges in return for a decreased monthly fee, they should be charging more for their services to ensure that the residents aren't living in cockroach-infested filth while eating expired food.

Health Ministry
Inspectors should be making regular checks of all the retirement homes on a frequent basis...not just when a tragedy happens. By then, it's just too late. The retirement homes are issued licences by the state and it's therefore up to the state to guarantee that strict adherence to those regulations are followed.

Many Greeks still believe that none of this would have happened if families had just taken care of their elderly family members themselves and not shipped them off to a retirement home in the first place. While it's true that nothing compares to the care of a diligent and concerned family member, it is becoming more and more difficult to find the one (preferably more) person/s to commit themselves to being the sole caregiver of an elderly person. Many more people are living well past the age of 65 these days than ever before and that presents another set of problems. The longer they live, the more health problems they will have often resulting in round-the-clock care. This isn't just a case of making sure Forgetful Granny remembers to wear her shoes instead of house slippers to the store. It's making sure they don't wander around the streets at night while we sleep. Or suffering from Alzheimers trying to cook breakfast for their son returning from the Second World War at 2am like my grandmother tried to do. Many families are simply not equipped to provide this kind of care and are forced to put their parents and grandparents into a home with the hope that a qualified retirement home may do a better job.

The families DO have a responsibility to research and make an informed decision before allowing their relatives into a home. They must continue to visit and inspect the conditions of the home while their relatives are residing there. The responsibility should not end once they sign the monthly cheques nor should the quality of their lives depend on how deftly we can haggle the price for their care. Our parents and grandparents deserve so much better than the raw deal we're giving them right now. It's up to all of us to see that they at least live out their remaining years in comfort in return for the lifetime of hard work and love they gave us. It's the very least we can do.

It is a tough issue. I didn't even realize there were retirement homes here at first, because they weren't talked about or obvious, not like they are in America, at least.

My parents had to make a decision to put an elderly (90+) aunt in a home in America not too long ago. It wasn't easy, it was a difficult decision, but she lived 5 hours away from them and they simply couldn't keep travelling up every two weeks to make sure she was ok, especially after she kept falling and hurting herself. She did not want to move down with them, and there were some decent options for retirement homes in the area. Hers is a very small (I think only around 6 patients) and manageable retirement home in a small community where everyone knows each other.

My husband's papou died a little over a year ago, until then he and yiayia had lived in their apartment (where I am living now) with little to no problems. Papou was pretty with it until he died, actually. Yiayia has a lot of problems though, and they compounded when papou died, of course. It has been really hard on the family - both my husband's parents still work (as physicians) and yiayia's daughter and her husband also still work. The family doesn't want to put her in a home, they are pretty opposed to it, but the brunt of the burden of taking care of yiayia, even on a three month rotation between two families, has been tough. I'm sure with the recent findings on retirement homes here they are even less inclined to send yiayia away.

But yes, responsibility needs to be shared. Family members need to visit loved ones often enough to check their health and well-being and keep an eye on the premises. The government, who licenses these places, needs to do frequent checks to make sure they are up to code and not mistreating patients.

The really sad thing is such issues are not limited to Greece. Nashville has been in an ongoing battle with a nursing home that had a fire, and there are constantly reports of mistreatment and abuse at these places.

What I don't understand is how anyone can treat old people this way, and still sleep at night.

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