Vital care home system is sorted
There is never a good time to be told that you are homeless, but in the month before Christmas the news is especially devastating. However, that is the news that has been delivered to the 254 residents of seven care homes being closed by Four Seasons Healthcare.
These residents are elderly people in the main who are unable to live independently. Their care homes, no doubt chosen carefully for them by relatives, are their only homes.
To these people these are not simply care facilities, they are where the residents live and form friendships while having their needs looked after.
Now they face disruption. Even though the homes will not close before next March, the thought of the impending upheaval will prey heavily on the minds of the residents, never mind the care workers who may lose their jobs.
The residents will wonder what the next home they are sent to will be like, and will their friends also transfer with them. These may seem like small considerations but they mean a lot to those who spend their twilight years in institutional care.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton is to be applauded for acting swiftly once he learned of the closures. He has signalled that at least some of the statutory residential care homes previously earmarked for closure may now be given a reprieve.
That at least should ensure that those residents displaced from Four Seasons homes will have somewhere to go in the longer term.
However, the sudden closure of these seven homes - Four Seasons operates another 62 facilities in the province - shows the potential danger of over-reliance on the private sector to provide this vital service for the elderly.
Quite simply, they regard care homes as a business like any other. If they don't turn a profit then the only option is closure. That may seem uncaring giving the nature of their work, but no private company can be expected to run as a virtual charity.
Previously, health trusts were keen to shut down statutory homes because there was ample accommodation in the private sector. But now companies argue that the payments they receive for care do not meet the actual cost of it. If that is a sector-wide problem then more privately-run homes could close.
Given the province's ageing population, it is imperative that a suitable mix of statutory and privately run care and nursing homes are available to meet the need.