India: Elderly Homes Hit Hard in Pandemic Era

A medical dispensary inside an old age home in Patiala district of India’s northern Punjab state was shut barely a few months after the first wave of COVID-19 struck the country.

The dispensary, which provided free medicines to the elderly living in nearby villages, was closed as donations that helped run the dispensary stopped coming.

“The initiative [dispensary] had been going on for many years now. We would provide free medicines to the people here, who can’t go to cities,” Lakhwinder Sareen, manager of the old age home, where the dispensary was located, told Anadolu Agency by phone. “But it is no longer functional because there is a shortage of funds.”

As the second wave of COVID-19 has now devastated the country, it is not just the dispensary that has shut. Elderly homes are now struggling in the absence of sufficient funds.

Sareen touched on the many difficulties the pandemic has brought to run these homes.

“When there was no COVID, we would see people visiting us from time to time. They would bring fruits, vegetables, sometimes celebrate birthdays or even donate medicines,” he said.

“Now, things have changed, and we are in a very difficult situation now. We have to manage everything on our own, be it clothes, vegetables and every other item.”

It is not this center only. According to Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed, mission head (age care) at the HelpAge India, a non-government organization, focused on the concerns of elders, the coronavirus has caused immense problems to the elderly homes.

“If you look at public support from people to the homes, it has dried up. A lot of individuals would earlier reach us and support…all those things have stopped. The reason is the economic scenario, and then restrictions are there and people can’t move,” he said.

Hardships

Stanley Johnson from the Johns Daycare and Boarding for Senior Citizens Association, an old age home in New Delhi, said that while they are facing tough times, they are ensuring that the residents of the old age home do not suffer.

“It (COVID-19) has affected us to a great extent. There were difficulties…the organizations which were helping us stopped because they also faced hardships … we somehow managed to organize the funds,” Johnson said.

“These two years have been very tough and we have gone through various difficulties. But we are ensuring that residents living at the old age home don’t face any inconvenience.”

But not everyone is lucky.

In Himalayan Uttarakhand state, Asha Kiran Ashram has stopped accepting new members. Those managing the old age home cite two main reasons: A shortage of funds and the present COVID-19 situation.

“There are multiple problems, be it food or medicines. Almost everything has stopped. There is no financial support. We are running short of funds, and it is becoming difficult to run,” Bishan Lal Shah, who manages the Ashram, told Anadolu Agency.

“We have a 25-bed center, but we have only 10-12 members here and we are not taking new ones. We are just managing to provide care to those who are staying here.”

While the shortage of funds has put the old age homes in a difficult situation, it is also a distressing time for the residents. Most of them have not stepped outside due to restrictions imposed by the authorities.

India’s Health Ministry had earlier issued an advisory for the country’s elderly population during COVID-19 to stay at home and avoid accepting visitors.

Confined inside

Rakhsha Rani, 63, has been living at the old age home in Patiala for the last three years after her son died from cancer. She maintains that she has not stepped out since March last year.

“My daughter got married long back and would visit me after a few months. But now I have not stepped out since last year…The situation is very distressing now,” she told Anadolu Agency.

“We are just praying that this disease will go away now and things will return to normal soon. I think by staying inside, I am alive today.”

The management of the old age homes, by not letting residents venture out, is also helping save their lives.

A study published on the medical site medRxiv in December 2020 had noted the “very low mortality rate in old age homes” of all three states where the study was conducted.

“To stop the (coronavirus) infection from spreading in the old age homes, the managers ensured that the care workers were made to live temporarily in the old age homes, thus preventing contact with the outside world,” the report said.

In the capital New Delhi, Kanu Ram from the northeastern state of Assam said he is confined to the four walls of the old age home and cannot work to earn money for himself.

The 61-year-old Ram was working in a marketing research company in New Delhi before the pandemic.

“I can’t step out now and it is very difficult to earn (money) … COVID-19 has brought too many problems to me,” he said. “I don’t have money most of the time now.”

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