How the Church Can Stand Alone When Social Care Fails
Lack of nursing staff forces some retirement homes to turn people, even elderly patients, from hospital, and home care providers hand over care packages to their local authorities. The National Care Forum reports that between September 3 and October 20, some 5,000 people were denied care.
And the problem is about to get worse as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) warns there will be a “tsunami” of people without the care they need this winter, unless shortages staff are resolved. The reasons given are the new immigration rules, a reluctance to accept the vaccination and better wages paid by supermarkets.
The “tsunami of unmet need” is more than a vivid phrase and the numbers do not show the human tragedies that occur behind closed doors. I see it up close with a couple of old friends: the husband (90), a sweet retired pastor, has dementia, and his wife (87) has been waiting for almost a year for an operation to adjust her pacemaker. heart to deal with a failing heart. She finally got an appointment and calls her friends to see who can take her the 20 miles to the hospital before 8:00 a.m. and someone else who can look after her husband while she’s gone for. the day.
The recruitment of caregivers is not a new problem. At any point in the past 10 years, there have been 100,000 vacancies. In October 2019, Age UK found that in the 18 months between the July 2017 and December 2019 elections, more than 1.5 million calls for help were turned down, and each day, an average of 80 people had died while awaiting medical assistance.
This tsunami has been developing since 2010, when government funding for social care fell. Adequate funding would have meant higher salaries for caregivers, better reflecting their skills and responsibilities and the vital tasks they perform, and greater public awareness of their value.
What can we, as people commissioned by God to care for one another, do to help each other?
The Christian charity I work for, the 215-year-old Pilgrims’ Friend Society, has both retirement and nursing homes. We pray on Zoom every morning and at noon, elevating our work to God, praying especially for our caregivers. They have coped with the crisis and the extra work it has brought beautifully, and we ask God daily to renew their strength. We are blessed by the fellowships of the church who help us: they pray for us, raise funds and come as volunteers. Our new home in Chippenham was built with them and the local community in mind, with a restaurant, hair salon and meeting rooms.
For people who have a hard time looking after at home, it’s the simple things that help. To my old friends, someone from the fellowship offered to drive her to the hospital (a 40 mile round trip for him), and another to stay with her husband for the day.
But the need for distance has now been removed, and it is an opportunity for churches to step up their aid. It helps if a church has a “caregiver” who can note those in need of help and find out from the fellowship what they think they can do, matching needs with talents. Some people are good at filling out forms and avoiding bureaucracy, and some are endowed with an empathy that allows for vital spiritual support. Rather than asking “how can we help? Make practical suggestions, such as cutting the grass, staying with a husband so the wife can have an hour or two to herself, perhaps having her hair done, or even ironing. In a church, I visited some of the ladies who loved to cook and baked an extra cake to take to the family; and the “chef” knew where it would be most welcome! Of course, it’s more than just a cake. It is the family of God that says, “We have not forgotten you; we love you.’
It is also an opportunity to enter the community, if resources permit. Many churches are already integrated into their local communities, and the elderly struggling alone are still the Sunday School generation.
Our website has a section on helpful resources, including a booklet on “Visiting a Person With Dementia”. For more information on old age issues, contact [email protected]
Louise Morse is Media and External Relations Manager at the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a cognitive behavioral therapist with a master’s degree in the burden of caregivers with dementia. She has published six books on issues of old age, including dementia, and is a speaker at national Christian events and in churches.