In 2016 alone, a nursing home run by Bridge of Rehabilitation Company has recorded numerous cases of death and mistreatment of mentally disabled patients. Causes included suicide, suffocation after choking on food and death due to inflammation of infected wounds.
The parent of a mentally handicapped child described these homes as a “living hell”. Full of mice, the bed sheets were never washed and the toilets were disgusting.
One former staff member from that nursing home supported these claims. She said they were told by their supervisors to never call the police and never record the deaths of any patients. She claimed there was usually only one staff member to look after 79 patients, and staff were often required to work overtime.
The head of the social welfare department admitted in a recent press conference that the department was aware that nursing homes were understaffed and that there were cases of patients being mistreated. While warning letters were sent out, no follow-up action was taken.
It wasn’t until a recent case of sexual assault at a care home – and the public outrage it caused – that the government stripped the home of its licence.
There are doubtless more cases like this. But the government has shown it is reluctant to take action. From 2013 to 2016, the social welfare department carried out 5,430 sudden site visits, sent 1,160 advisory letters and two warning letters. Yet, no nursing homes were banned from operation.
This is where we reach a dilemma. If the government were to crackdown, many homes would be shut down. Patients would be forced to turn to public nursing homes and given that the waiting time for these is currently at 83.8 months (according to social welfare department statistics), this would create a huge problem for patients.
In the recent sexual assault case, the charges were dropped as the girl, who was 21 but had the mental age of an eight year old, was deemed unable to testify. This reminds us that these are vulnerable adults we are dealing with.
The government’s reluctance to act sends the message to homes that no matter how bad things get, we dare not take action. We are also telling these vulnerable adults that we won’t protect them. Having a decent and safe living environment shouldn’t be dependent on your mental state. These are basic human rights and our government needs to take them more seriously.