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Nursing home anarchy - Gov’t loses handle on ballooning rogue facilities

Published:Sunday | March 10, 2019 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis - Gleaner Writer
Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer

As concerns grow about the care of Jamaica’s ageing population, fewer than a third of nursing homes are registered, Sunday Gleaner checks indicate.

Only 17 facilities governed by the Nursing Homes Registration Act were licensed up to 2017, the last year for which the health ministry has publicly accessible records on its website.

The majority were listed in Kingston and St Andrew, while the parishes of Hanover, Portland, Westmoreland and St Thomas had no registered nursing homes.

There are fears among both government officials and stakeholders in the elderly care industry that lax oversight and inadequate resources are putting ageing residents at risk because best practices are being compromised. The ministry only has two inspectors overseeing all nursing homes islandwide.

The crisis is of concern to Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton, who said ministry officials are combing through their database to compile an updated list in order to ascertain the scale of the informal sector.

“I have heard of a few reports in recent times of unregistered homes that are taking patients and not complying with the rules, which means that we need to be more vigilant in terms of enforcement. We have heard of cases where unregistered homes have been operating, and, frankly speaking, that is illegal, because registration should take place,” the minister told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.

“Registering requires certain standards to be established and maintained and we do checks on these registered facilities, and where we are aware of unregistered facilities, then we can also go in and shut those down or work with them to get them registered, so it is a concern for me personally,” he added.

Tufton is warning underground nursing homes, even those operating with a handful of residents, to regularise their operations.

“For the registered homes, there are some standards that we have to maintain and we do follow up on those. We can always reinforce some of those enforcement mechanisms, and our concern would be that they get registered, so that the standards in registrations are maintained,” he said.

Do rigorous checks

Professor of public health and ageing at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Denise Eldemire-Shearer, echoed the concerns of the minister.

“There are too many of them that don’t attempt to get registered. They are just operating and they don’t have a permit, and, therefore, nobody has checked them, nobody knows the staff-patient ratio. There are too many homes for older people that are not registered,” said Eldemire-Shearer.

The advocate for the elderly has called for persons to do rigorous background checks on prospective homes for relatives.

“They are supposed to display their registration on their walls. If you are looking at a home for your elderly relative, ask to see the registration certificate and look at the date on it or call the ministry. If something should happen, at least you can get some redress.

“Families need to be careful and they need to ensure that homes are registered before they put older persons in them. You have different levels of homes – homes for the elderly versus nursing homes, depending on the level of care that is needed,” said Eldemire-Shearer.

The professor urges families against viewing non-registration as a mere technical breach. Systems are in place for a reason, she asserted.

“If you are doing this as a business and you are collecting money, you should be registered. You think I could say I’m going to look after you as a patient and not be registered with the Medical Council? We have systems in every country and registration is one of the things you have to go through,” said Eldemire-Shearer.

Jamaica has more than 340,000 people who are 60 years old and over, with that demographic expected to reach 500,000 by 2030.

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com