NEW DELHI : Sometimes she is Shanti, sometimes Savita. She asks to be sent home every time she sees a staff member or a new face.
The letters to the mailing addresses she has mentioned have been returned undelivered. With the elderly woman unable to recollect how she ended up in Delhi, there remains little hope now of her being reunited with her family.
She nervously paces up and down the corridor and tells the staff she will recollect the “correct address” this time.
But for now, her home is the old age home in Bindapur – one of the two Delhi government-run homes for the elderly in the city. She has been here for 11 months.
The home, run by the Department of Social Welfare, houses 47 women and 13 men. There is only one couple, who sought accommodation here after being cheated by a business partner.
Though the capacity of the home is 50, it has been stretched to accommodate more.
Most of them are destitute, a significant number of them with no recollection of how they ended up in Delhi.
The police bring such cases to the old age home. Court procedures follow. In some cases, the department manages to reunite them with their families.
The inmates also include elderly people with no pension, and nobody to support them. The department allows admission for them after verification, a process which at times, can take months.
The Delhi government has set up maintenance tribunals in 11 districts under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. The act allows senior citizens to seek maintenance from their children if they are not able to fend for themselves,
“When they seek admission in the old age home, we counsel them and make them aware that they can appeal to the tribunal in their district. If no other option works out, admission here is of course open,” says Bindapur superintendent M C Maurya.
Restoring the elderly who have lost their way in a big city to their families is an important aim, explains Maurya.
The other Delhi government old age home, in Lampur, is run in collaboration with the NGO Delhi Brotherhood Society. Currently, there are 25 inmates there. Unlike in Bindapur, only 50 per cent of the places there are available free of charge.
The New Delhi Municipal Council has two old age homes under it, but they do not cater to the destitute. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi runs recreational centres for the elderly but no old age homes.
Bindapur is reeling under shortage of staff. Currently, there are four caretakers – one female and three males – one part-time nurse and one part-time doctor. For emergency services, patients are mostly referred to the nearby Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. With several inmates suffering from cardiac problems, the home must have a dedicated ambulance, feel staff members.
The ratio of one female caretaker to 47 inmates is poor. Also, the administration needs to depute one caretaker if a patient is admitted in a hospital for any reason. That depletes staff strength further.
Incontinence is a problem with the elderly, and it becomes difficult to maintain hygiene standards with this staff crunch. “There is a need for 12 caretakers who can attend to patients round the clock,” says Vineeta Sharma, link officer at Department of Social Welfare.
With only one part-time nurse on the 9 am-5 pm shift, there is no expert attendant for inmates at night. With a significant number of inmates suffering from psychiatric disorders, it is necessary that a nurse is present 24×7 in the campus, even if its to give them prescribed medicines on time.
“Around 30 per cent of the inmates are suffering from mental illnesses. These patients are undergoing treatment with IHBAS (Institute of Behaviourial and Allied Sciences),” says Dr Sushma Gill, the part-time doctor who visits the home thrice a week. In most of these cases, the patients are suffering from amnesia.
Though the rule book says those with communicable cases cannot be granted admission, in some cases inmates have contagious skin diseases which put others’ health at risk.
The medical room in the old age home is too basic, points out Dr Gill. There is a need to equip it with oxygen cylinders and suction machines.
H L Ghai, who spends most of his time reading newspaper, feels those suffering from mental illnesses should be in a separate wing.
“Otherwise, I am happy with my life here. My daughters visit me here once in a while,” says the 85-year-old who likes to watch the IPL cricket series and recite his self-composed shairi.
Though an assessment is made before allotting roommates so that there is parity in maintaining hygiene level in the room, it is unfair to segregate the mentally ill, says Sharma.
“Instead, we should focus more on coping techniques which help these individuals in being able to cope with the other inmates.”
But counselling has taken a back seat with the post of social welfare officer lying vacant at Bindapur home for over six months now.
Since the former welfare officer was promoted as superintendent, there has been no one to step into his shoes. “The role of a welfare officer is the most important in an old age home where intensive counseling is required,” says Sharma.
Ten sites have been identified in the city for new Delhi government-run old age homes.
“The projects are in various stages of gaining approval. According to the mandate, every district will have an old age home. Once the PWD (Public Works Department) gives the estimates and the funds are sanctioned, the construction is to be completed within two years,” says P R Meena, Director, Department of Social Welfare.
The identified sites are Kanti Nagar, Chittaranjan Park, Rohini Sector-4, Paschim Vihar, Chhatarpur, Wazirpur, Geeta Colony, Janakpuri, Sarita Vihar and Shakur Basti.
In the first three sites, the PWD has estimated the cost to be around Rs 5.78 crore, Rs 4.83 crore and Rs 12 crore respectively. Their capacities will vary from 50 to 100 inmates.
“The staff at old age homes needs more sensitisation to deal with the elderly there. Work at the identified sites should be fast-tracked. The government should also consider running these old age homes on PPP (Public Private Partnership) basis for providing the best facilities,” said a senior administrative official in Department of Social Welfare.
The New Delhi Municipal Council runs two old age homes in the city – Sandhya in Netaji Nagar, and Aradhana on Bhagwan Das Road which house only female inmates.
At Sandhya, there are currently 52 inmates, including eight couples. There are 17 women there.
At the NDMC homes, the eligibility criteria for admission includes the inmates being physically and mentally fit. Inmates have to deposit a refundable amount of Rs 8,000 during admission. While the monthly charges for room on sharing basis is Rs 1,581, a single room goes for Rs 2,960.
“Most of the inmates here are retired government officials. Counselling and motivating these inmates is most important as it can control a lot of factors about their well-being,” said Pradeep Kumar Singh, the manager at Sandhya.
Here, the elderly can sign their attendance and go out on their will. It is also must for those seeking admission to have local guardians.
“In the majority of cases, their children or grandchildren come to meet them regularly,” says Singh.
The image of only the “abandoned” turning to old age homes should change, says Nimesh Kumar, who has been staying at Sandhya for 10 years now. A retired Indian Railways employee, he feels that old age homes should be the first preference of the elderly.
“Why wait to be a liability? Even the next generation should not be pushed to adjust with the elderly. After my wife’s death, I decided to come to the home. Children should be allowed to have their own lives,” says the 80-year-old dressed in a crisp striped kurta.
For 82-year-old Rani Kaul, whose three daughters have passed away, the place has been a home for the past 11 years. Beside the television serials, her daily dose of two strawberry ice creams is her source of happiness.
“One after lunch, the other after dinner,” chuckles Kaul as the attendant closed the door of her refrigerator. “Not to speak of the sneaked-in evening chicken kebabs,” she adds.