Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Ethnic wards vital for oldies

Retired immigrants find happiness in feeling of belonging in rest homes.
Rupa and Balakrishan Madan are more comfortable on a ward with food they are used to and staff who speak their birth language. Photo / Lincoln Tan
Rupa and Balakrishan Madan are more comfortable on a ward with food they are used to and staff who speak their birth language. Photo / Lincoln Tan

There is an urgent need for "culturally appropriate" elder care, and having ethnic wards at existing rest homes is the way to go, say cultural leaders.

Nearly 6 per cent of all Asians living in New Zealand, or 27,309, are aged 65 or over.

Overseas-born Asians in that age group have also a much lower home ownership than European or Maori, according to Statistics New Zealand figures.

Aashirwad ward is a designated Indian ward in the David Lange Care Home in Mangere where all residents are migrants of Indian descent from South Asia or the Pacific Islands.

The 22 men and women at the facility are served curry with daal and chapatti for their meals, and are under the care of nurses who speak Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi and Urdu.

They also get to enjoy Indian television channels and read newspapers and magazines in Indian languages.

The ward became part of the Bupa care home three years ago after lobbying from the Bhartiya Samaj Trust.

Trust chairman Jeet Suchdev said the trust now had a waiting list of about 100 elderly Indians.
The trust plans to start lobbying other rest home providers to have designated wards given the spike in demand.

"Many are parents of migrants who are now in a position where they need care to look after themselves, and some are waiting to be transferred from other rest homes," Suchdev said.

He said many struggled to explain their health concerns and dietary needs at other rest homes because of language barriers.

"They are lonely, depressed and many lose their will to live because they feel miserable every day," Suchdev said.

Suchdev said designated wards worked because residents had daily opportunities to interact with residents of other ethnicities.

But they are able to be in the company of people and enjoy meals that they are used to.

Madan Balakrishan, 91, and his wife Rupa Madan, 88, have been residents of the ward since it started operating in 2013.

"Everyday I still look forward to the good food and good friendship. We never feel lonely," Balakrishan said.

"We chose this place because we can get Indian food and nurses who can understand us. We are happy here."

The couple's children, who sponsored them to reside here under Immigration's family reunification policy, are no longer in the country.

Another resident, Madhu Singh, 65, moved there after her husband died.

She said the ward residents and her caregivers had become her new family.

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said New Zealand's changing demographics and growing aged population meant there was a need for culturally appropriate care.

Care homes are governed by their contracts with district health boards to ensure the provision of culturally appropriate services.

But it is understood that many struggled to cater to the increasingly diverse needs.

"There is need for optimal elder care which honours continuity, security, familiarity, linguistic diversity, faith and companionship," Pio said.

"However, culturally appropriate rest homes cannot be considered in isolation and need to be embedded within a continuum of knowledge which respects hybrid and diverse treatment modalities, has governance with expert advisory panels and policy frameworks."

Massey University sociologist Professor Paul Spoonley, an immigration expert, said elderly family members were being left isolated when those who sponsored them here moved elsewhere.

"The elder care sector is going to have to consider how they might appropriately meet the needs of older members of immigrant and ethnic minority communities," Spoonley said.

"Making sure they can speak with others from their language and cultural communities is vital. Food that they are familiar with would help."

- Herald on Sunday

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