Warning: This article discusses suicide and could be distressing for some people
A Taupō pensioner says she felt like giving up on life after her husband's carers regularly failed to turn up.
Helen Wickens has been looking after her husband, Richard, around the clock since he had a stroke in early 2019; her only reprieve comes through the few hours he's visited by carers each day.
But she told the Herald despite being booked in for 21 hours a week of support, three hours a day, she's regularly stood up and forced to stay at home without help for days.
"He's got to have help getting on the toilet, off the toilet, on the bed, off the bed, he can't dress himself."
Most recently, she said no caregivers came for a whole weekend and she felt like giving up on life.
"There is no end in sight."
When Wickens spoke to a co-ordinator from the provider, HealthCare NZ, about feeling so desperate, she claims to have never heard from her again.
Not having the support also means Wickens is unable to attend exercise classes she's already booked and paid for.
"The healthcare organisations don't really care because they've had the money, they don't care if nobody comes in."
Wickens said she had sent invoices to the company for the times carers did not turn up, and the cost of the classes she's had to miss, but never received a response.
"They [the company] did on Sunday say, 'would you like a job?' And I said no, I wouldn't because I'm doing it now, with no pay, and yes the money would be good but it means I don't get a break because if nobody comes in, I can't go out."
The situation is also having an impact on her husband, she said, who "hates" what's happening, but is unable to do anything about it.
This isn't the first time Wickens has had issues getting support for Richard.
About two years ago she reached out to the Herald claiming workers from another organisation, Enliven, had been missing shifts.
A low point at the time came when she couldn't get the Presbyterian Support organisation to arrange for Richard to have respite care so Wickens could travel to the Kāpiti coast for their son's 40th-birthday celebration.
But she thought things would be different with his new provider, Healthcare NZ, which took over earlier this year.
Now, she says they're facing the same problems.
"It's every health organisation that is supposed to provide support for people like us and it falls short."
Wickens said she wasn't alone, and said several others she knew were having the same issues.
Grey Power president Jan Pentecost told the Herald in the past 18 months it had started hearing "lots" of these stories.
"They can only stay at home if they're cared for by these carers and we are hearing stories that they are not getting the care that's necessary."
While she didn't have precise numbers, because sometimes she had "hundreds" of calls a day, she said there had certainly been an increase.
This can have a range of impacts on older people, many of whom she said were getting anxious when carers didn't turn up.
"People who have personal carers are usually waiting to be showered, they're waiting to be dressed, if the carer doesn't turn up they're sitting there in their night attire all day."
Since vaccine requirements for carers kicked in, Wickens said the situation had got even worse because one of the workers who looked after Richard refused to have the jab.
"We don't want her in here because Richard has in the past had a massive dose of pneumonia."
Although she does have a sister in the area, Wickens said she travelled a lot, and while one of her sons comes to help on occasion, none of her children live in Taupō.
In a statement, New Zealand Health Group chief executive Josephine Gagan confirmed the client had reported some concerns with their home care services.
"They came to us mid-year and as sometimes [is] the case, there is a settling-in period of adjustment. We strive to always provide the best possible service we can, so it is disappointing to hear carers have missed some shifts and inconvenienced our client."
Gagan said there were protocols in place for when a carer is unable to attend a shift; on occasion this was at short notice, and they may be unable to provide an alternative, and he said that was not ideal.
"These are challenging times for our sector; providers are hugely reliant on worker integrity and availability - and in the main it works well for our clients. On occasions when it falls short of our ideal, we truly regret it does."
She said they were working hard to resolve the client's concerns, but due to privacy reasons could not go into specifics.
"HealthCare NZ is always concerned to hear issues about our service delivery; there are established channels for this to be addressed, we have an open-door policy and welcome feedback so that we can improve where necessary."
Right now it was a challenging time for the industry, Gagan noted, and like Wickens said this had been exacerbated by Covid-19 and the vaccination mandate.
Seniors Minister Ayesha Verrall was approached for comment, but a spokesperson said they cannot go into details about specific cases.
In a statement, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said the agency was committed to the provision of home and community support services, which enable older people to stay in their own homes for as long as it is safe and affordable for them to do so.
The spokesperson said district health boards have the responsibility for funding aged care services, including Home and Community Support Service (HCSS).
They said HCSS providers were facing challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to affect workforce availability, but they were working to ensure services continue for those most at risk.
"When DHBs are made aware of complaints regarding the services they fund, they work with the provider to address those issues and to ensure services are delivered consistently to a high standard."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.