Frontlines: Care homes and moral dilemmas

What an emotional minefield it is finding respite care for a loved one. Not to mention the financial pitfalls. After a long and hard working life, you would think you had earned the right to be cared for in later life, but therein lies a moral dilemma about whether to keep those savings down and let the authorities foot the bill.

Then there’s the guilt, the sleepless nights, and visiting one home after another until they all seem to merge into one. I have lists of homes the social worker gave me, lists in neighbouring boroughs gleaned from the internet, and still we have to wait for yet another assessment until we can go ahead and book somewhere.

I’ve worked closely with social services for enough years to know how these things work, but being on the receiving end of bureaucracy when all you want is some help in caring for a loved one gives a different perspective.

One thing I find is that I have too much choice. In my work with people with learning difficulties we talk a lot about offering choices, but with the proviso that too much choice can result in confusion. I feel a bit like that now; you don’t have to have a learning difficulty to be overwhelmed by too many options. I can visit three or four homes and make comparisons, but when faced with lists of hundreds I just want to run and hide; I don’t want the responsibility in case I get it wrong.

As I work in a caring profession, it may be assumed that I know about these things. But the professionals I come across in my role as a carer tend to let me get on with it, as there are others who need their help more. Which is fair enough to a degree, but little help when I’m lying awake at night trying to remember which home was the one that didn’t smell so bad, and which was the one where the manager asked whether we preferred burial or cremation just in case “anything happened” when I was sunning myself on a beach for two weeks and couldn’t be contacted (as if!).

But most depressing was the one my granddad was in 20-odd years ago. It hasn’t changed much. Inside those doors time seems to stand still, but outside it rolls on regardless, providing a steady supply of customers.

Jennifer Harvey is a carer and works with people with learning difficulties


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