In Portugal, every year hundreds of elderly people stay in hospitals longer than necessary, because nobody picks them up. The Portuguese Association of Victim Support (APAV) says that more and more elderly are being abandoned and the crisis serves as justification.
There are many old people who live alone and don’t have anybody to care for them at home, but there are many others that are left behind by their own children on stretchers in the emergency room. “They go and park their car and never come back”, and also don’t answer the insistent phone calls made by social workers.
“Regardless of the reason, it is always a form of abuse to abandon an older person“, says the vice president of APAV. He has no concrete figures, but João Lázaro is sure that the abandonment of elderly at hospitals is increasing. The apologies have changed throughout the years. First emergency rooms of hospitals served as deposit for elderly during festive seasons and the summer holidays, because families couldn’t take their older relatives with them. Now the motivation is called economic crisis.
“There are families that simply can’t afford to take care of their elders. If they stay at home to be with them, they’ll lose their employment, and losing their job means they won’t have enough to eat”, reveals a source at the Amadora-Sintra hospital close to Lisbon, which up to December 14th counted 48 elderly abandoned in its beds. This is an average of four old people a month.
Situated in a difficult socioeconomic environment, the Amadora-Sintra hospital has had this problem for several years and, thus, has a number of dramatic stories. A paraplegic elder Guinean came to this hospital because he had nowhere else to go. He ended up staying six years and was eventually repatriated at the expenses of the hospital.
To vacate the beds occupied by so-called “delayed clinical discharges due to social reasons”, Amadora-Sintra spends thousands of euros a month to pay for 18 beds in nursing homes for the elderly. The money is then reclaimed by the hospital at the Portuguese Social Security, but it is not always returned, says the source at Amadora-Sintra.
Besides the costs of hospitalization, postponing clinical discharge may have health consequences for the elderly, who have a weaker immune system and are more exposed to hospital infections.
Up north, there seems to be a more effective response. At the major hospitals of the Oporto Metropolitan Area cases of extended hospitalization have decreased in recent months thanks to an efficient Social Security strategy, which has given “top priority” to this problem, putting “all agents to communicate with each other”, such as homes, parochial institutions or other social entities.
The Centro Hospitalar do Porto was the first to test the new “communication channel” between hospitals and Social Security. Last month this hospital no longer had any elderly people with delayed clinical discharge.
The Hospital de S. João and the Centro Hospitalar de Gaia implemented this system later, but according to the source at S. João, the results of this approach are obvious. In 2012, the hospital delivered 21 older people to the hands of Social Security and six are still awaiting a decision. In Gaia, thanks to this system, 34 elderly were identified as social cases. In Braga Hospital, the number of elderly in this situation this year was 24.
Inês Schreck, in: Jornal de Notícias
Translation: Josephine Landertinger Forero