Focus/Spotlight

Managing care home facilities amid Covid-19: Lack of mechanisms for welfare programmes

  • No programme implemented yet to assist orphanages and elders homes 

  • Awareness programmes conducted on caring for elders during pandemic 

  • No separate funding allocated for welfare programmes during lockdowns 

  • Several civil society organisations carrying out welfare programmes 

By Yoshitha Perera 

In the wake of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a possibility of a negative impact on eldercare home residents and the staff that look after them. 

The lives of the residents at the eldercare facilities and the caretakers have already been threatened due to the constant lockdowns and relevant Government institutions failing to formulate a proper mechanism to reach these isolated and stranded individuals. 

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Director of the Social Services Department and the National Council and Secretariat for Elders, Chandana Ranaweera, said that the institution has still not adopted any mechanism to conduct welfare programmes for residents at eldercare facilities during the lockdown period. 

“No special welfare programme has been implemented so far to assist orphanages and eldercare facilities during the lockdown period. However, before the lockdown, we had conducted several awareness programmes at these facilities to educate on elderly care during the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

The State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemic, and Covid-19 Disease Control is the line ministry to handle eldercare facilities across the country. The Ministry also has a National Secretariat for Elders to improve the necessary welfare facilities of the growing elderly population and to protect their rights. 

When contacted, Secretary to the State Ministry Sunethra Gunawaradena said that there was no separate allocation of funding by the Government to implement such a programme during the lockdown. 

However, several attempts to contact State Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle in this regard proved futile. 

Meanwhile, several civil society organisations (CSOs) are currently mobilising as a collective to implement welfare programmes at eldercare facilities during the pandemic. 

The programme had been formulated by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) for Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation Chairman Basil Rajapaksa. 

According to the PTF programme, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is the key organisation to handle the CSO collective. 

Speaking with The Sunday Morning, Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement President Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne said that the programme had been implemented by collaborating with 22 district-level CSOs. 

The fast mutation in the new variant of the Covid-19 virus had affected the continuation of welfare programmes at the eldercare facilities. Dr. Ariyaratne said that currently, there is a considerable hike in reported Covid-19 patients from these facilities. 

“In the present situation, the CSO collective is only conducting an assessment. After relaxing the current lockdown, we will implement the plan on continuing welfare programmes at the facilities.” 

When questioned on the funds for the programmes, he said that the Government had not allocated any funds to conduct welfare programmes. 

“The PTF for Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation is facilitating the CSO Collective by providing approvals through provincial, district, and divisional secretaries for travel, transport, etc. We are raising funds through local donations and foreign sources.” 

Commenting on the estimation of the funds collected by the other sources, Dr. Ariyaratne said: “Our estimate of the support that we will mobilise through different sources would be around Rs. 40 million for about 500 homes for one to two months.” 

He further added that the elders living in eldercare facilities are also eligible to receive the Rs. 5,000 stipend. “We hope that the Government will provide them with the relevant allowance, as we cannot meet the complete demand through our resources alone,” Dr. Ariyaratne said.  

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Delayed vaccination programme 

When managing Covid-19 disease in a care home environment, there has to be proper guidance regarding infection control and administering vaccination is vital. 

However, when inquired about the vaccination process at the eldercare residences, Secretary to the State Ministry of Primary Health Care, Epidemics, and Covid-19 Disease Control Sunethra Gunawardena, said that the Epidemiology Unit had not approved the State Ministry’s request to continue the vaccination process at these facilities. 

The National Vaccination Deployment Plan of the Ministry of Health commenced in March by administering the first batch of 264,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covidshield vaccines for the vulnerable population above 60 years. According to the stats, there are almost 2.65 million elderly people (above 60 years of age) in the country. 

Responding to The Sunday Morning query, the State Ministry’s Secretary said: “Only a few eldercare facilities in the Western Province had received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. There are a considerable number of facilities across the country which still didn’t receive the vaccine and they are in a high-risk category.” 

Meanwhile, Social Services Department Director Chandana Ranaweera said that there are almost 350 eldercare facilities around the country. He stated: “Among them, only 100 facilities in the Colombo-Gampaha Districts had received the vaccine.” 

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement President Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne emphasised that the Health Ministry has to give priority to the elders in residential care facilities in other provinces as well when administering the vaccine. 

The vaccination programme commenced by administering vaccines for the elders in the Victoria Elderly Home in Rajagiriya and the Kotelawalapura Elderly Home in Malabe on 12 March. The event was headed by the Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi. 

However, at the moment, there is a delay in the process of administering vaccines for the elderly population in the country.