A survey of retirement village residents revealed complaints about being barred from leaving their places and sometimes even their rooms during high alert level lockdowns, but managers say they were doing the best for residents.
Peter Carr, president of the Retirement Village Residents Association, which represents many of the 40,000-plus people living in New Zealand villages, said there had been some "appalling" cases where residents were mistreated and denied basic human rights.
But Graham Wilkinson, Retirement Villages Association president representing owner/operators, said "gratitude, plaudits and congratulations" were given to many village managers for the care they took during the higher alert levels, which saved lives.
The association said some poor practices had emerged in a survey it recently conducted.
Carr said: "Managers of villages interpreted the rules in different ways and some people were forbidden from leaving their villages. Some village managers were over-cautious and, while that's very noble, it was appalling that people were stopped."
• Coronavirus in NZ: Retirement villages in restricted access mode, visitors asked to stay away
• Covid 19 coronavirus: How life will change for 43,000+ retirement village residents under alert level 2
• Coronavirus: Rest homes, retirement villages plead for national aged care response plan
• Premium - Coronavirus: 43,000 NZ retirement village residents 'at high risk at infection' - analysts
Security guards were stationed outside gated villages, Carr noted, questioning those arriving and leaving.
While he approved of measures like temperature-checking, designed to ensure residents' safety, Carr questioned whether residents' freedom to move should have been curtailed to such an extent, especially in "lifestyle villages" without hospitals or rest homes.
Nigel Matthews, association manager, said the survey showed 79 per cent of residents felt management had either done well, or extremely well at managing Covid-19.
"However, we've fielded calls from residents who had been restricted from leaving the village even at alert level 3 and some from even going outside - and we are talking about independent living residents, not rest homes. At another village, staff and management had disappeared completely for weeks," Matthews said.
Carr said the village where staff and management suddenly left was in Wellington and he planned to find out more.
Wilkinson said he knew nothing about that case but some rest homes had staff difficulties.
"Some of the care facilities had not taken into account the likely outcomes of having Covid-19 and some staff or nurses didn't come back to work because they were fearful for their own health," Wilkinson said.
But overall, the retirement village sector had performed admirably and was praised for care taken to ensure residents were protected from the pandemic, Wilkinson said.
"We were all barred from leaving our own homes except to get food, during alert level 4. In the majority of villages, steps were taken for food to be distributed, people were entertained, kept safe, had security and stimulation. Residents were in fact calling managers asking for gates to be closed earlier. People wanted it faster and earlier," Wilkinson said.
Aside from issues during the pandemic, the association is lobbying for a number of wider changes to the sector.
It says more than 90 per cent of villages do not return a residents' capital until their unit is sold or relicensed "and yet residents have no say in the sale price, sales process or whether new units are advertised over vacated ones."
Residents should be given a guaranteed timeframe of six months for the return of capital or buyback, regardless of whether or not the unit has sold. This change would save residents waiting up to two years for their money, the association says.
Wilkinson said such a scheme could easily bankrupt villages: "If it was implemented, it would stop the sector overnight. Banks would stop lending. The sector is well-regulated with a high degree of transparency."
Steps were in place to ensure lengthy payout periods were avoided, he said.
The association wants to ban double-dipping where villages can keep 20 to 30 per cent of residents' capital via the deferred management fee and charge $10,000 for a resident to move within a village.
Wilkinson said people should read contracts carefully before buying to see if the village "double dips. Generally, there's very little of this. The vast majority of villages don't." Those villages which did engage in this practice were obliged to say so in writing, Wilkinson said.
The association also highlighted the case of a 64-year-old man who had trouble selling his retirement village unit where the sales manager admitted only new builds were being sold and existing units were not being marketed.
"The only way out is to move into a dementia wing or die", the man was quoted by the association as saying of his plight trying to sell his place.
Wilkinson said: "If I was that 64-year-old, I would recommend they put a complaint to the retirement commissioner and I would seek payment of my money with no deferred management fee - if those were the facts of the case. There are rights of redress for anyone."