New Delhi: Living out their twilight years in old age homes, thousands of elderly persons across the country could lose the roof over their heads with funds for their donation-dependent refuges drying up in the past few months.
As businesses collapse and incomes shrink in the extended lockdown and post lockdown phase, many old age homes have been forced to trim their budgets for essentials such as rations and medicines and some fear they could be looking at closure if the financial crisis continues.
“Old age homes, especially the smaller and mid-sized ones, have traditionally depended on donations from local philanthropic individuals and business communities. With the lockdown and economic recession, the same has totally dried up,” HelpAge India CEO Mathew Cherian told PTI.
Many institutions might be forced to shut shop due to the “drastic fall in their overall incomes”, he added.
According to HelpAge India, a non-profit organisation working for the disadvantaged elderly, there are nearly 1,500 old age homes in the country, housing nearly 70,000 people.
Other than the luxurious enclaves for the affluent, most senior care homes depend on donations, in varying degrees, to keep things running smoothly.
The stakes are high for the residents, some of them taking on jobs such as cleaning, washing, cooking and making beds without assistance as their homes are forced to dispense with daily help.
Compelled by circumstance, they came in for various reasons – dysfunctional families, financial constraints or the need for companionship in the last years of their lives. The fear that the life they have finally settled into might be taken away imperils their sense of physical and emotional security.
Shashi Malhotra, 73, is one of those who said he doesn’t know where he will go if his home closes down.
The former inspector with the sales tax department separated from his wife in 2008 and hasn’t seen his sons in 12 years. With the impending challenges of old age and no family to turn to, he registered himself in an old age home run by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).
It has been a decade since he moved to the home in south Delhi’s Govindpuri locality.
“This is better than home. I feel happy and secure,” he said.
That this could be taken away from him is a thought almost too much to bear, Malhotra said.
The DMRC home, which houses Malhotra and 20 others over the age of 55 free of cost, has undergone a budgetary cut of almost 30%.
“After the funding started decreasing, we have been facing difficulties in arranging rations, toiletries and medical supplies for the residents. Sometimes, we do get help from NGOs like HelpAge India, but we mostly have to just manage within the resources we have,” said Rohit Kumar, supervisor at the home.
The staff — there are four of them — hasn’t been laid off yet. But the future is uncertain.
Shantiniketan, an old age home in south Delhi’s Chhatarpur locality that provides shelter to 38 ‘homeless’ and poor residents above the age of 60, isn’t as lucky.
With a dip in funding by 50%, from both corporates as well as philanthropic individuals, the home had to let go of all four of its housekeeping staff.
“The money from the funding is used for the upkeep of the home — rentals, and electricity bills, as well as staff salaries. We have had to ask our staff to not come, because we can’t pay their salaries anymore.
“We are grateful that we haven’t had any major medical emergencies yet, but we are not sure what we will do when that happens,” said Sister Ancy Johnson, who runs the home with her family.
She added that they do the chores around the home, including cleaning and cooking, on their own.
According to india.gov.in, while most old age homes in the country offer free accommodation and food, there are some that work on a payment basis depending on the type and quality of services offered.
The charges for paid facilities range anything between Rs 4,000-6,000 per month, said Himanshu Rath, founder of the Agewell Foundation.
The total elderly population in the country runs close to 120 million, out of which 53.5 million are “disadvantaged”.
According to Helpage India’s Cherian, the depletion of funds is an immediate outcome of the “donor base” itself getting affected by the current state of affairs.
With incomes threatened and businesses collapsing, it is understandable that donors — both corporates and philanthropic individuals — are unable to lend a helping hand, in cash or in kind, he said.
“A conservative estimate would peg the quantum of decrease in support (for old age homes) at 50–60%,” Cherian said.
Life which was tough has just become tougher.
“In the changed environment of social distancing most elderly have to take care of their needs themselves, as general staff are unable to attend to them due to lockdown rules and the coronavirus threat.
“Many who have to go for routine medical checkups are the worst affected because not all homes are equipped with medical facilities,” Agewell Foundation’s Rath told PTI.
A June 2020 survey by the not-for-profit NGO working for the welfare and empowerment of older persons revealed that approximately 55% elderly respondents (within and outside of old age homes) felt the “lockdown situation” is affecting their health conditions adversely.
“At least 75% of elderly patients said that they missed the healing touch of their doctor, as they could not visit them personally. Nearly 44% of the respondents feel that limited or no access to regular medicines and physiotherapy were among the most critical health challenges being faced by them,” the survey noted.
Rath said government authorities should provide “subsidy or loans and support for assisted living or senior care homes”.
Unless the government comes to the rescue, the situation will only “aggravate the penury of the homes”, leaving thousands of elderly homeless and without any care, agreed Cherian.
“Government can also give pensions to all residents of old age homes under the National Social Assistance Programme... and also 'White Ration Cards' under Right to Food,” Cherian said.
HelpAge India has currently been aiding several old age homes to stay afloat by providing them material and resources to counter COVID-19 crisis, said Cherian.