Ombudswoman uncovers serious failings in old age homes operating outside of the law

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek

The Czech Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová is ringing the alarm regarding the conditions in which some senior citizens live in old people’s homes that fail to provide adequate care. The spotlight on several such homes has underscored a serious problem in a country with an aging population.

Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová,  photo: Šárka Šečíková
Excessive use of tranquilizers, physical restraint, poor quality food, dehydration and lack of qualified medical care - those were among the failings cited by the Ombudswoman in four facilities in different parts of the country. Ms. Šabatova claims that the findings in these particular homes are just the tip of the iceberg in a problem area that is in urgent need of attention.

The country’s population is aging and the social services provided are inadequate. The lack of registered old age homes for which there are long waiting lists has led to the establishment of facilities which double as old age homes but do not register as such, and thereby do not need to fulfill the set criteria or open their doors to inspectors. Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová:

“Under Czech law you cannot provide this social service without a registration. But these facilities have found a way of by-passing the law. They take in seniors on a rental contract and claim that they are merely providing accommodation with some services for the elderly. In this manner they avoid any kind of supervision and very often they take the client’s entire pension although the law says that they should be allowed to keep 15 percent no matter how small the pension is.”

Illustrative photo: Filip Jandourek
The homes in question have reacted with hostility to the media attention surrounding them – saying that since they are not registered as institutions providing social services they do not have to explain anything. According to the Ombudswoman’s Office there are now 80 such institutions around the country. The media attention surrounding the story had moreover put the spotlight on other problems in the field. Gerontologists point out that even registered homes leave a lot to be desired and that state inspections in them are few and far between. The head physician of Prague’s Gerontology Centre Iva Holmerová told Czech Television that this area of care falls partly under the Ministry of Labour and partly under the Ministry of Health, which do not cooperate very well in providing adequate supervision. Inspections often focus more on administrative matters than the conditions in which the elderly live, and the actual quality of medical care is often too complex a matter for the inspectors to judge.

The Ombudswoman has said she wants to inform the prime minister in detail about the problem and ask the government to put more money into social services for the elderly. However as new facts emerge on the problems in this field it is clear that the whole system may need a thorough overhaul if the country is to be able to provide dignified living conditions for the elderly. This would involve not just close cooperation with municipalities but also better conditions for families to act as caregivers.