By Leon A Smith
June 3, 2011
Of all of the items that appear in our newspapers on a daily basis, the care of older people has never been higher and more prominent in the headlines. As is so often the way with such matters, virtually all of the headlines and the substance behind them is negative. The country’s largest care home operator, Southern Cross, is in serious financial difficulty; exposès of poor care; criticism of the national regulator CQC, etc etc. It’s almost as if care of older people and bad news have become synonymous. How often do we read in the press or see on our TV screens stories expressing positivity relating to older people in the care home sector? The answer sadly is rarely! One wonders why this should be? It is of course the responsibility of the media to report news. And there can be no doubting that there are lots of bad things happening out there. But there are also lots of good things happening out there, yet these never appear to be worthy of scrutiny.
At Nightingale, the care home which I run, we see examples on a daily basis of good things happening – quality interactions between carers and the cared for. Contented residents using their creativity through pottery or drawing. An older person practising their ballet exercises which they have not done for perhaps 30 or 40 years. And the hand massage of a resident. The pride and feel good factor that one of our residents has coming out of our hairdressing/beauty salon. The sheer contentment following a classical music concert or an outing to the East End. These are all wonderful positive moments. They are not dramatic. They are not controversial. And usually they are not newsworthy.
Why is it that the media can only focus on the negative? Presumably it is simply because good news is not news.
Every day people come to work at Nightingale to care for those older Jewish people for whom we have responsibility – a serious responsibility that has been placed in our hands by individuals, by their families, and by commissioning authorities. Our staff and our volunteers in common with management take this responsibility very seriously. People do not come to work in a care home to make their fortune. They come to work here because they want to make a difference. That’s exactly what they do on a daily basis by enhancing the quality of life of our residents.
It can be difficult in one’s mid-90s suffering from numerous illnesses and perhaps suffering with depression and losing one’s peers on an increasingly frequent basis. At Nightingale we are striving to make every hour of every day a meaningful one by trying to give our residents a purpose in life through our extensive activities programme.
We are not perfect. We cannot achieve success every minute of every day with every resident. But that’s our objective and we have set the bar high! I would be amazed if this non-story were ever to make it to the front pages of our National newspapers in the same way shock horror stories have done in recent days and weeks.
Stories to be told are fascinating. Stories of older people now in their 90s or over 100 who came to this country as émigrés with nothing. They struggled in tough and depressing times to make a success of their lives against all the odds – retired furriers, dressmakers, doctors, academics, those who served in the RAF and the Israeli Air Force, those that have worked for governments either in this country or elsewhere, hairdressers, accountants, civil servants and engineers – all have fascinating stories to tell. Who is interested to hear them? Certainly I am and, indeed, it is a privilege beyond description to be able to work in an environment where one is able to listen to and learn so much from such a fascinating range of people - and this is what motivates most people working in this sector.