Levin woman, 96, may be left to fend for herself if MidCentral DHB cuts cleaning service

A 96-year-old woman will be left to get down on her knees and scrub the floor when her home support is ripped away.

Trixie Cottingham was in tears after she received a letter at the start of the month from the MidCentral District Health Board telling her the cleaning service she had relied on for three years will be cut off.

The Levin woman, who has lived alone since her husband died 31 years ago, is horrified by the news she'll be left to fend for herself.

"I can't even bend down and I can't use the vacuum cleaner or bucket of water to clean the bathroom and toilet.

"It's as though they're wanting to run your life and take away all your freedom."

Trixie Cottingham with Poppy Bussell who wore Cottingham's 1945 wedding gown made from whitebait netting for a fashion parade. Photo / Horowhenua Chronicle
Trixie Cottingham with Poppy Bussell who wore Cottingham's 1945 wedding gown made from whitebait netting for a fashion parade. Photo / Horowhenua Chronicle

The new DHB policy means the home care help will only be given to those who also need personal services, such as showering and getting dressed.

Cottingham explains that if she took up the personal care services she would have to wait for a caregiver to shower her, which would mean she couldn't go out with friends or get picked up for lunch on a whim. She also doesn't want to accept more help than she needs and be a burden on the system.

"It'd be curtailing the little bit of life I've got. You get very lonely and you have to fight that.

"I don't want to take money from the system to help me if I can help myself."

Last year Cottingham was one of 1000 Horowhenua residents who were told by the DHB their level of home support would be cut. Her home help was reduced from 90 to 30 minutes a week. But she kicked up a fuss and the reduction was withdrawn.

She feels the drop in home help is one way of forcing the elderly into care.

Her husband Jack who died 30 years ago, paid tax all his life, served his country in the army and the couple raised five children in the home she has lived in for 68 years.

"They say they want us to stay in our own homes for as long as possible but then they cut any support so we can't."

Families can't be expected to step in, she said. Her adult children are spread throughout the country and world.

"They do as much as they can but they work and have their own lives to lead."

Cottingham has appealed the support cut and her services will remain until that is determined.

Carer Renee Wills has offered to clean Cottingham's house for free. She said the DHB should be celebrating her capabilities rather than forcing her to give up her autonomy.

"Effectively it's someone independence being taken away from under their feet.

"Next thing her living conditions will be ruled unsanitary then she'll be forced into a rest home."

Horowhenua Mayor Michael Feyen said it made financial, health and social sense if the DHB could support Cottingham to stay independent at home.

"It strikes me as very odd that someone at 96 would get anything turned down.

"You'd want to be in a society that helps people like that as much as you can.

"I'll be on to it."

MidCentral DHB chief executive Kathryn Cook said the health board is reviewing Ms Cottingham's situation after her complaint.

"Enabling older people to continue living independent lives in their own home for as long as possible is a priority for MidCentral District Health Board.

"It is important to emphasise that as yet no services have been withdrawn from Mrs Cottingham. She continues to receive home management support and will do so while the process of re-assessment continues."

Ms Cook said 25 reviews similar to Ms Cottingham's have been undertaken, but only three have resulted in the original decision being overturned.

Ms Cook said 24 per cent of Horowhenua's population was older than 65, compared to a national average of 15 per cent. The cost of the DHB's "personal care services" has grown by a third - $2.2m - since 2012/13.

"MidCentral DHB works hard to balance competing needs within available resources ... This initiative is not about reducing expenditure; it is about focusing our efforts on those in the greatest need."

Oana Michael from Horowhenua Age Concern said they haven't had any calls and can't step in to help unless they're contacted by the person directly.

Cottingham is amazed at the people that have offered to help her.

"I'm finding out there are lots of people who are wonderful," she said.

- NZ Herald

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