The generosity of the community


By Leon A Smith
August 3, 2012
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Until this week the subject of fencing (not the garden or criminal type) had been one only vaguely in my consciousness. I’ve never had any interest in fencing. I’ve never seen fencing. And even if I had thought about it for two minutes, I’d probably would have said – what is the point? No pun intended!

All that’s changed this week! I’m now a fencing officiando. It was perhaps destiny that my application for Olympic tickets resulted in me receiving tickets for fencing. What an intriguing day it was. High skills. A great spectacle. Very exciting. But above all, a lasting impression of how people could be so committed to what I had hitherto thought to be a very obscure activity. The same observations could equally have been made about archery or handball. The impression one is left with in relation to any of these sports is the sheer determination and indefatigability of the participants. Imagine spending a very significant part of one’s spare time fencing or playing handball. Yet people do it. People from all over the world make these activities their prime purpose in life.

This has got me thinking as to what is my own prime purpose in life! (A truly philosophical question which of course ranks up there with “what is the meaning of life?”). A large part of my time is spent running a charity which cares for older members of the Jewish community. I am sure that many of those in the fencing or handball community will think to themselves – what an obscure and strange way to spend one’s time. And they’re possibly and probably right! That’s what I have chosen to do in life and that’s what gives me satisfaction.

The founders of our charity, whose origins can be traced back over 170 years, were truly altruistic, principled people with genuine concern for the wellbeing of their fellow human beings. That is why they established The Widow’s Home Asylum and The Hand in Hand Asylum, which subsequently became The Home for Aged Jews which subsequently became Nightingale House and subsequently became Nightingale Hammerson. Their purpose and our purpose today is totally clear. We exist to provide care for older people – that’s our purpose in life. Nothing less. Nothing more.

There are a number of other sectors involved in providing care to older people. These include local authorities and some Primary Care Trusts – local authorities albeit to a much lesser extent than was previously the case. We are not quite sure how much longer Primary Care Trusts will exist. Notwithstanding the problems which affected Southern Cross, there are other very large communal operators in the field of caring for older people. However some of these large companies are also highly leveraged and some of them could without prudence follow in the steps of Southern Cross.

This causes me to wonder, although it doesn’t take a serious amount of thought, what is their purpose? - ie what is the raison d’etre of private sector homes? In short, the reason that they exist is to give a return to their shareholders and/or investors/backers. That is why they are there. This therefore presents a fundamental difference in ethos between the private sector and charitable sector in terms of how the homes are run. That is not to say that charities such as my own have any less focus on budgetry control. We are and we need to be extremely careful, if we are to remain viable.

Private homes have been founded in order to make money. Charities such as Nightingale Hammerson were founded in order to provide care for those in need. Does this fundamental difference in ethos therefore impact in any way on the day to day running of the home? Certainly it would be absolutely wrong to say that the private sector has no role in this field. They most certainly do. And there are some truly excellent private care homes throughout the country, in the same way that there are some truly excellent charitable homes. Yet there is always a nagging feeling that an organisation which exists in order to make money must ultimately make some hard and detached decisions . What happens in private homes when residents run out of money? They are businesses not charities which exist for the benefit of others.

Ever increasing pressures through the lack of local authority funding will have a number of effects – one of which will be that it will make local authority clients less and less attractive to those operating private homes. Put simply, the amount of money which local authorities pay when they commission care for older people is woefully inadequate and falls far short of the running costs of the vast majority of homes. This in turn therefore means increasingly that many care homes have become filled with people who are paying for themselves. Such people themselves of course have needs and in many cases the same needs as those who do not have money.

But one must be wary of the fact that we could end up with a two tier system whereby more homes are full exclusively with private customers and some are full with local authority funded clients. These latter homes must make ends meet and on current levels of local authority funding it’s very difficult to see how this can be done. One can only hope and pray that this will not result in the long term in the cutting of standards and quality of services being provided to their clients.

Those living in homes such as Nightingale Hammerson and other homes which exist within the Jewish community are indeed fortunate in that the level of facilities which are on offer are there in the main solely as a result of the generosity of the community. Without their continuing support of all of our care homes, it simply would not be possible to provide the range of services and facilities which we currently offer.

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