Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by M. Fitzherbert Inniss (retiree)
It seems like an annual ritual for the media to highlight the “dumping of old people” at healthcare facilities around the island, and the responses from various interested parties and politicians are usually the same rhetoric of “stop their pension cheques”, “ this is not the Bajan way” and “the Government is looking into it.” Truthfully I am tired of those in high and mighty positions using this deep societal challenge to get their 15 seconds of fame and then leave the stage without offering rational solutions.
For many years we have known that Barbados was becoming or is an aged society and therefore should have better prepared ourselves for this phenomenon. We also know that over 60 per cent of Barbadians suffer from chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and this figure is even higher among the elderly.
We also know that we are a developing economy with many economic challenges and hence resources to be allocated by the state for elderly care is limited. We also know that we have not had a structured culture of investing for our old age.
Rather we had a culture of building assets to help our children do better economically than we did with the hope that they will care for us in our last days. The evidence is clear that most Barbadians do care for and provide for their elderly relatives.
The cases highlighted are a very miniscule number of citizens. That does not deny that it is a serious matter as no elderly person should be left to a life of squalor and lonliness in the evening of his or her life, regardless of the socio-economic circumstance.
But we also have to face some realities. The persons “neglected” would neither find themselves nor their immediate family to be members of BARP which is really a body representing middle-class elderly folks, many of whom have retired. The displaced elderly folks usually come from very poor families who have been struggling to provide the basic neccessities for the old folks.
Many of them have exhausted the avenues supposedly available from state agencies like Welfare Dept, Home Care Dept, constituency offices of politicians, churches and community groups to name a few. Sometimes, they do not even know where to or how to turn for help.
Apart from the medical issue that may have landed these old persons at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or Harrison’s Point, many of them have other health issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to care for in their regular home environment.
The call to stop these persons’ pensions is but a rather immature and emotive response. Empirical evidence shows that most of these folks only receive a NIS non-contributory pension and that is often needed to help provide for three generations of one household who are well below the poverty line.
This same little pension is also used to help buy a few pampers, skincream and powder when these folks are hospitalized so as to help avoid the bedsores that seem so common in the same health facilities.
Tell me BARP et al, how can a $700 per month pension pay for a $2,500 per month elderly person? Clearly, if nothing else, the Ministry of Elderly Care as established by the Mottley Administration in 2018 and headed by Cynthia Forde and now Kirk Humphrey, ought to have identified some of these causes of this situation.
More time should be spent on sustainable solutions. A Government that found it expedient to lower Corporation Tax from 30 per cent to a maximum of 5 per cent in 2018 could by now have found it prudent to offer fiscal incentives to corporations, institutions and individuals to assist with elderly care facilities and programs.
With all the monies borrowed from the IMF, the Chinese, CAF and Sam Poochie and the Duppy, what is there for elderly care pograms in Barbados? How can we use the church halls, pavilions and other state facilities strategically located around the island to provide day-care facilities staffed by graduates of the elderly care program run by the BCC? You see, many of the family members are too busy working during the day to care for their old folks.
They just need help during the day. Instead of imposing a significant tax on oil, finance and telecom companies, what about incentivizing them to partner with Rotary and other social clubs to expand the meals-on-wheels programs so that more elderly folks can have a meal each day?
Instead of giving more and more to privately owned hotels and wealthy hoteliers what about asking said hotels to stop dumping excess food and sharing it with old folks in their communities before the expiry dates?
Or even offering to style their hair once a quarter. What about active aging programs that would see our open pastures being equipped for elderly with benches, shades and whatever they need to congregate, exercise and live longer and healthier lives?
So I am sorry, this problem of elderly care cannot be wished away and solved by stopping pensions of a select few or getting on your soapbox and attacking the families. A closer look will show that there are deep societal problems that do not need rocket scientists to resolve them.
It calls for caring and empathetic political leaders to enact and enable sound public policy and for the others in society to chip in and pull their weight. It is a whole of society issue that requires a whole of society approach. Afterall, as late prime minister David Thompson once said, “Barbados is not just a society, it is also an economy.” He may have been laughed at, but he was oh so correct.
This column was offered as a Letter to the Editor