Retiree loses all faith in care provider
An elderly man feels so let down by the scattershot state of his in-home care that he wants to give back the Queen’s Service Medal he once received for services to health.
Twice a day Eric Clarke, 87, opens the door of his Feilding home to carers. They see him at his most vulnerable, as the treatment he needs is intimate.
But too often they are strangers, and too often they are careless, leaving Clarke anxious, angry and humiliated, and twice in need of an ambulance.
Clarke, who received a Queen’s Service Medal for services to Wellington’s ambulance in 1997, now has such little faith in the health sector that he wants to return the medal to the steps of Parliament.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 23 years ago and given four months to live. Clarke has since developed three other cancers, one in his prostate and two in different parts of his spine. He has three types of skin diseases and requires insulin daily.
He needs care every day, including a shower, ointment on his skin, including private areas, insulin shots and someone to clean his home.
His carers are also his main form of human interaction since his wife died.
He has a regular carer each morning, whom he trusts dearly, but the afternoon service – contracted to Healthcare NZ – has become a roulette of dissatisfaction and embarrassment.
He rarely knew which carer was coming, and they would often arrive with ‘‘no identification, no smock or anything’’. He had to explain their duties to them, or do it for them.
‘‘A [weekend carer] said she couldn’t do my washing because she didn’t know how to work the machine. I had to do them myself ... I fell down the stairs and the ambulance had to come.’’
One male carer arrived without identification, and Clarke struggled to understand the man’s explanation for being there so refused him entry.
‘‘Elderly people are frightened of things like that,’’ he said.
A female caregiver looked so young Clarke felt it inappropriate to ask her to apply ointment to his genitals.
‘‘I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her [what was involved]. I should never be put in that position.’’
On one occasion, a carer almost injected insulin in Clarke’s finger when they mistook an epipen for a glucose tester. On another, the carer left early, so Clarke was left to administer his own insulin. But he left the pen out, and later gave himself a second dose. An ambulance had to be called.
‘‘A [weekend carer] said she couldn’t do my washing because she didn’t know how to work the machine. I had to do them myself . . . I fell down the stairs.’’
Clarke said he had attempted to contact Healthcare NZ several times but was unable to get a manager on the phone. He felt abandoned.
Healthcare NZ acting chief executive Josephine Gagan provided a statement to Stuff after first asking to be emailed questions.
She said the provider took Clarke’s concerns seriously, and it had stringent security and identification procedures. Clarke had been right to refuse a carer entry into his home without identification, and all carers were required to wear photo identification.
Gagan said all carers were trained and audited, and service delivery was reviewed by registered nurses. Carers were selected based on their competency and the requirements of each client. The provider did not discriminate against employees based on age.
However, she said Healthcare NZ tried to accommodate clients who felt uncomfortable with a younger adult handling more intimate healthcare.
Healthcare NZ would work directly with him to find a resolution, starting with a meeting on Tuesday, she said.
The Midcentral District Health Board’s operations executive for health, ageing and rehabilitation, Andrew Nwosu, said 2965 clients in the region were shared between three providers of in-home and community support services: Healthcare NZ, which has 1345 clients; Lavender Blue, with 974; and Geneva, with 646.