06 June 2018

Baby boomers: change the system or end up in the terrible nursing homes you deserve


I think I may have mentioned this, but I don't like neoliberalism.

That's okay, because most other people don't like it either. They just don't know it. But the ideology which has spread like a cancer through society for forty years - the ideology of maximising profit at all costs, cutting regulation, firing staff, user pays, and the hell with the values of compassion and decency that just get in the way of making money - they hate it. You can see it in the complaints about the terrible toll neoliberalism has racked on our society - everything from self checkouts, telcos sending jobs offshore so you speak to someone overseas who tells you your service won't be fixed for 6 weeks and can't conceive why that's a problem; TAFE unattainable and unaffordable, people with serious disabilities forced to look for work they cannot do, then they hate it.

The Liberal party and to a slightly lesser extent Labor party believe that government should "get out of the way" and let business do its thing, as free from regulation, and taxation, as possible. Therein lies job creation. But corporations pursuing profit above all won't employ a single person they don't have to, and often rather fewer people than that, as you'd know if you shopped retail or called your phone company lately. Government bureaucracies, similarly driven by KPIs and the relentless drive for efficiency, are little better.

And if anyone objects, says this is unregulated neoliberal capitalism and it's time to reign it in, oh the howls of protest from those in power. You want socialism! You want us to be Venezuela!

But a free market system that puts human services in the hands of barely regulated, for profit corporations, terrible nursing homes are the inevitable, and symbolic, result.

Nursing homes really epitomise what free market capitalism has become. The government has shifted human services to the private sector. Privately run nursing homes, free of regulation and heart, can stack elderly and dying people like firewood with a minimum of staff and count the profits coming in, hailed as successful business people driving the economy, and meanwhile it's the poor schlub who left a substandard school early, can't get a place at TAFE, and has lost heart after months of futile job searching who is called a parasite.  

Nursing homes are increasingly owned by foreign conglomerates. Research shows nursing homes owned by group capital consistently perform worse than non profit facilities across all measures of patient care. If you spend your lifetime voting for neoliberal economic policies, then a for profit nursing home is where you’re going to end up. Choice is not going to provide much comfort when the general standard is terrible. When you have media exposure like the Four Corners episode, people are outraged for a bit, then everything continues on as normal, because it's the underlying system that is terrible. The Baby Boomers are starting to go into nursing homes; by 2030 - that's 12 years away, think how recent 2006 seems by comparison - there will be half a million of them. And if we don't act now to make some pretty fundamental changes to our political and economic systems, these shitty nursing homes are what they all have to look forward to. We've already seen this in for profit care of at risk kids.

What do we value most as a society? What values do we vote for? If that's unregulated, profit driven capitalism, then as a society we're all headed for profit driven nursing homes that employ as few staff as possible, serve the cheapest possible food, skimp on medical necessities, and leave us to rot in our filth. There are high rates of depression and suicide in nursing home residents.

It's extremely stressful not only for the patients, but the families, the overworked staff. There are no minimum patient to nurse ratios and the complaints process basically consists of receiving a complaint, asking the nursing home did they do anything wrong, and when the nursing home writes back to say they didn't do anything wrong, closing the case (now where have I heard that before?)

But hey, when we die from that bedsore that festered after we were left in one position for 18 hours, at least our loved ones can show they cared with a hideously overpriced funeral! This is harsh, but it's the truth. These are hard conversations to have. It's hard for us to admit that we've lost sight of what's fair and decent in the last 40 years, and it will be even harder to turn things around. But Baby Boomers need to ask themselves what happens when they can no longer manage all the caravanning and being a grey nomad, when spending their kids' inheritance gets really old and so do they. As a society, we all need to shift our values, stop putting profits above people, and vote accordingly.

Because if we live by the profit motive, we'll die by the profit motive. 

No comments: