It is with concern that we have read of and followed the development of the planned closure of seven care homes across Northern Ireland including the Hamilton Court Care Home in Armagh.
It might be easy to reduce this story to numbers, profit and loss and viabilities. This is symptomatic of the government’s policy of austerity, where the goal is to balance the books. One way of doing so is to cut the costs of caring for the elderly by outsourcing it to private companies, whose own purpose is to generate profit.
But this story is really about people.
It is about the residents of these homes who will be traumatised by the anxiety of moving. Patients of Alzheimer’s and dementia find comfort in the familiar and predictable. To move them from where they are now to somewhere new will be a great cause of anxiety. Profit, loss and viability are meaningless to them. The closure of these homes is their story.
It is also the story of the families, those who’s loved ones are about to undergo a time of extreme anxiety and trauma. They are desperate to stop this from happening, they are emotionally invested in this situation and they are driven by their love for that precious person. It is the story of trying to keep stability while planning for change. It is the story of the elderly man now trying to find a new home for his elderly wife. It is the son and daughter who had prepared for a comfortable end of life for a parent now needing to do it all over again. The closure of these homes is their story.
It is also the story of the staff that work at these care homes – the managers and the helpers – who have invested not just their time, but themselves into caring for the residents. They, too, have become like family. And while some might have been offered the opportunity to be absorbed into other care homes owned by the company, this will not be as simple as moving up the road. When I visited the home this week I was impressed by how the staff conducted themselves. How, in spite of the uncertainty and upheaval in their own lives, the residents of Hamilton Court Care Home always came first. They recognised that the residents did not live in their workplace, but rather that they worked in the residents’ home. The closure of these homes is their story too.
But it is also our story, because in the decision to close these homes we see the shortcomings of the government’s policy of austerity. We see the shortcomings in the government’s decision to outsource the care of the elderly to private companies whose purpose is to generate a profit. We do not condemn Four Seasons for this, because profit is the purpose of any company, although we question why care for the elderly should be considered an investment opportunity rather than an act of sacrificial love. Perhaps non-profit organisations would be more suited to this responsibility.
The real question, however, is why the government would think that it is okay to do this. How they could expect a care home to be a viable investment if there is not sufficient support given to these companies to deliver. A company’s responsibility is to its shareholders, but the government’s responsibility is to the people of the country.
It is our story because as long as this policy continues, we are all at risk of not receiving sufficient care as we grow older, and so we call upon our government to reconsider this flawed policy and to no longer relinquish their duty of care to all the citizens of the United Kingdom
The Methodist Church in Armagh recognises that we are called to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger; that we are called to care for and speak out for those who cannot do so for themselves. And so we offer our support to those relatives who are seeking a change to what is happening and those who are beginning to plan for the period of transition that lies ahead, always recognising that this needs to be as peaceful and comforting as possible.
While we recognise that it is likely that we will see the closure of Hamilton Court at the end of February we will continue to pray and speak out for a different outcome. We offer our prayers and our support to the families as they begin to seek and plan for the transition in care for their loved ones, and to the staff as they also prepare themselves for the uncertainty of their future employment.
We ask the Minister of Health, Simon Hamilton MLA to do all in his power and circle of influence to try to reverse this decision, and if he is unable to do so, then to take steps to ensure that these traumatic experiences do not happen again. We call upon the government, in Stormont and Westminster to prioritise and protect the care for the elderly.
We ask the people in and around Armagh to sign the online petition that calls for a government review of their policy towards care homes and care for the elderly. While we hope that it is not too late to reverse the decision regarding Hamilton Court Care Home, it is also our hope that the voices speaking out now might make a difference to future decisions regarding care for the elderly.