I live right behind a home for the elderly. From my kitchen window, I have a view of the back courtyard and service entrance. All day you can observe the employees of the kitchen and laundry staff enter and exit during the 24 hour shifts. Up until recently a battalion of construction workers, their supplies and machinery were renovating this wing of the facility.
The main entrance is just around the corner. A sweeping drive way, with a vast parking lot for visitors(it NEVER gets full). Out-door types and smokers with or without mobility supports, converge under the awning in all weather. The entrance is their window to the world. But I suppose that for all those who enter this place, the reality is that the only way out of there is perhaps a walk around the block, a visit over the holidays with their family but ultimately only death.
Over the course of the past year, this exodus was noted on several occasions. The hearse parking in the back courtyard and the somber undertakers rolling the coffin out from the back entrance, alone and unaccompanied. What is interesting though, is that families of the Muslim faith show up in unison to receive their loved one and escort him or her. Then the back entrance is quiet again. Even if you don’t actually witness this, a person’s passing is always followed by a collection of pieces of furniture that are carried out the backdoor and placed into the courtyard. The favorite easy chairs, side tables, cupboards and lamps are discarded and await being shredded into bits by the special garbage truck. Sometimes this furniture stands in the rain for days , solemn reminders of their owners.
The first time I found an older lady lost and completely scared in the neighborhood, I was shocked( I was not able to gather enough information from this poor old woman, there are several homes in the area, so I decided to start with the one next to my house). Walking into the reception area of the establishment unquestioned or stopped. No sight of any staff! There were several elderly sitting in the lounge, but neither my charge nor the people recognized each other. I got the lady some water and told her I would go to find someone in charge. I spent the next 15 minutes walking the maze of corridors in all directions, without finding anyone resembling a member of the staff!! Passing the open doors of the rooms, the faces of the bedridden elderly, so so many of them. Finally, I found some sort of dining room where some residents were having coffee with their visiting family members and a service employee. She went off to find someone and I returned to the entrance area. Twenty minutes after we entered the building someone in uniform appeared. She did not know the lady either, but checked her name on the computer and lead her away, after thanking me for my help.
As I stepped out into the drizzle, my heart was heavy. What it must be like to live there…
The facts are simple:
1. Demographically seen the need for nursing homes is increasing at a never before seen speed. Life expectancy has been steadily rising.
2. The cost of securing a place is staggering and depends on the health of the elderly, but a progression from stage 1-assisted living-to stage 3-complete care *-is certain and forgone only by death. *not noted are stages 4 through 6
3. An acute shortage in nursing staff(statistically seen, during one shift a member of the staff takes care of between 20 and 28 elderly)!
4. Poor salaries and dumping wages for temporary staff
5. Extended shifts, poor working conditions, poor prospects, lack of prestige and recognition
6. Lacking funds
To name just a few.
With the birthrate in Germany at 1,36 – things are likely not going to improve. More and more women are conscientiously deciding against having children. It is easy to understand, that the financial aspects and repercussions are not to be taken lightly. On the one hand the German Government does “reimburse” or “motivate” women for having children by offering Kindergeld or child allowance, but that that in the long course of child raising, does not cover the costs incurred. But on the other hand the supposed Social State does not offer free schooling. Starting from kindergarden, the parents are required to pay. For the working mothers (they will have to work for their future pensions) there is always the conflict of finding adequate and after hour care. Many women are forced to pay extra to schools for supervision until they are able to collect their children after they finish work. The cost per hour stands in no relationship to the hourly wages most women receive.
Of course there are plans and reforms in progress which are supposed to alleviate some of the problems. Offering a mother or father one hundred Euros a month to keep their child home, instead of sending it into day care. Providing some extra points for children on the pension fund, which amount to so little when it comes to actual numbers – isn’t going to sway a woman to have a child.
Governments and politicians are closing their eyes to the fact, that the fewer children are born, the fewer future tax- and pension/healthcare payers will be available – who will on the one hand, supply the funds necessary to keep the system going and on the other hand who will supply the manpower to look after the rest of us.
That Europe and Germany already has a problem with their aging society is an undeniable fact. How we care for them and treat them is a reflection of our society. But without children there is no chance of a future.
For those of you who like statistics, this is staggering: