Sun | Dec 15, 2019

Abandoned with cause? - Senior citizens champion urges caution in condemning those who leave the elderly at hospitals

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Angela Fearon (left), patient affairs manager at Kingston Public Hospital, in discussion with one of the men who have been abandoned at the institution.

One of Jamaica's staunchest advocates for senior citizens, Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer, is not joining those who have been condemning persons who have abandoned their elderly parents or relatives at public hospitals.

Since The Sunday Gleaner reported that hundreds of mainly elderly persons, have been abandoned at public hospitals, there has been widespread condemnation of the relatives of these persons but Eldemire-Shearer last week argued that the reality is that some of these individuals are not in a position to provide care for ageing relatives.

"I am sure we can condemn some, and some are just ungrateful, but I think we have to look at each of the cases on a case-by-case basis; I don't think we can broad-brush," said Eldemire-Shearer.

"It is becoming a very complex subject and one we will have to think about," added Eldemire-Shearer, as she argued the issue speaks to the need for more long-term care alternatives for the elderly, given the fact that the country now has an ageing population.

"Look at some of the other circumstances around us. Can children really afford their own children plus parents, plus pay mortgage, plus pay transport? It's complicated. I don't think there is an easy answer," Eldemire-Shearer told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to data from the health ministry, more than 700 patients who have been discharged from public hospitals across the island are still occupying bed spaces that are needed by more acute patients.

Administrators at the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) told The Sunday Gleaner that the majority of the 35 patients who have been abandoned there are elderly men.

"The vast majority of these patients don't need to be here, they could quite easily be managed in the care of their family where they can have their meals prepared and be looked after by their loved ones," said senior medical officer at KPH, Dr Natalie Whylie.

But Eldemire-Shearer and the hospital's Chief Executive Officer Errol Greene have questioned if these abandoned men are among those who were never a part of their children's lives.

"Coming from where I am coming from, that is a factor," admitted Greene who, before taking up the post as CEO at KPH, was the secretary-manager of the St Thomas Municipal Corporation.

"I honestly believe that a lot of them have not had any contact (with their children)," said Eldemire-Shearer.

Obligation to parents

Under the country's Main-tenance Act, a child is obligated to an extent to care for his/her parents or grandparents who are in need of maintenance due to their age, physical or mental infirmity or disability.

"The government can take action even against the grandchildren if those people can be found, and the funds that is expended by the government to care for these persons can actually be charged to the children and the grandchildren," said Greene.

While this option is available, Greene said the hospital has never taken the route of going through the courts to recoup the millions of dollars spent caring for parents or grandparents who fall into the hospital's 'social cases' category.

"The hospital could not do that. That would have to be done by another agent of the government. That would have to be done by the Poor Relief Department or the Ministry of Labour and Social Security," he said.

"The inspectors of poor have not been too interested in going that route, but it is the law," he explained.

Attorney-at-law Sherry-Ann McGregor said that it is very rare for a child to be taken to court for not maintaining their parents or grandparents in Jamaica.

She noted that based on the act, the parent can take the child to court, or a government agency such as the Ministry of Labour and Social Security can do so.

"It is not like the hospital can directly apply; the government agency can, if it has been called upon to give assistance," said McGregor.

However, she cautioned that the judge would take into consideration the nature of the relationship between the parent and child or the grandparent and grandchild.

Factors such as whether the parent played an active role in the life of their child would be among those things that the court would consider.

"So did you take care of this child who you are now asking to take care of you?" questioned McGregor.