Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Inside our rest homes: Flatting seniors look out for each other

The Ministry of Health has started posting full audits of rest homes on its website this week. In the fourth part of a series, Simon Collins and Martin Johnston report on some promising alternatives to the way we have cared for our elderly

Residents, from left: Tim Holderness, 79, Mary Campbell, 89, Annie Middleton, 82, and Elva Harris, 86, enjoy a cup of tea in the shared kitchen/dining area. Photo / Christine Cornege
Residents, from left: Tim Holderness, 79, Mary Campbell, 89, Annie Middleton, 82, and Elva Harris, 86, enjoy a cup of tea in the shared kitchen/dining area. Photo / Christine Cornege

Moving in with nine flatmates takes a bit of getting used to when you're 73, says Alison Glen.

Mrs Glen, now 75, moved two years ago into Abbeyfield in Hamilton, one of 16 Abbeyfield houses around New Zealand offering a kind of lightly supported living that local Abbeyfield secretary Denise White calls "flatting for seniors".

The 10 elderly residents in the purpose-built house at the Te Ara Hou social services village on Morrinsville Rd are largely independent. Mrs Glen catches the bus into town most days to attend Zumba and other activities at Age Concern, while others go out to volunteer at a local foodbank or help at Mainly Music, take part in singing and musical groups, go to the Blind Foundation, serve as a voluntary hospital chaplain, or just take a walk in the sun.

Their sunny $300-a-week rooms each have their own en suite bathroom and door opening out to their own patch of garden.

But when they need help, it is on hand. A paid housekeeper comes in each day to cook lunch and dinner, which they eat together at three tables in the dining room. A younger man lives in an attached flat and goes out to work during the day, but does a security check at night and helps with things like changing lightbulbs and fixing taps.

More importantly, the 10 flatmates also look after one another. If someone hasn't got up for breakfast, the others will go and check that they are okay.

"It takes a bit of getting used to," Mrs Glen admits. "It's very pleasant here, but there are a lot of little ways of doing things that have become almost a part of what Abbeyfield is, so therefore you have to fit into that.

"Being one of 10 people who want to hang their clothes on the line on the same day, it was difficult getting used to. Now I just plan things so I know the ladies who are going to be hanging their washing on the line on certain days and I avoid that."

The lifestyle suits Annie Middleton, 82. "I've been widowed three times. I'm not happy by myself for any length of time," she says.

Tim Holderness, 79, moved in this year after his wife had to go into a rest home.

"I decided before I came here that when the time came that I failed to pass an eye test or they took my licence away, that this was probably the best place I could be in," he says. "The bus is right here, and I have kids around the place who can help."

What our investigation has found:

• Older people are more likely to end up in residential care in NZ than in any other developed country.

• Care providers say they are funded only to provide "a minimum level of care", almost always without full-time physiotherapists or occupational therapists.

• Providers say state funding is $500 million below the level required to justify building a new stand-alone care home.

• Providers are trying to close the gap partly by charging premiums for en suite bathrooms and other services.

• Rest home caregivers earn a median of about $15 an hour, only $1.25 more than the minimum wage.

Audits released this week show most rest homes are achieving most of the required standards, but there are lapses in care at some homes.

Tomorrow: How to choose the best care
Tell us your story: resthomes@nzherald.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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