The meager amount of funds fail to solve the problems of old age homes in Chennai

The twilight years can be the most beautiful times of a life. Even though there are many destitute women and men waiting for a respectable farewell in Chennai, a home to 12-16 percent of its population above 60, yet the Tamil Nadu government has failed to provide any fully owned government old age home. While there are no government-owned old age homes, the partly funded old age homes receive an amount which is far less than their expenditures.

The old age home scheme sponsored by the state under the Social Welfare and Nutritious Meal Programme Department is in all districts of Tamil Nadu provides Rs 2 lakh per year per old age home which is not sufficient as per the expenditures of these old age homes. The scheme provides grant only to those old age homes which have strength of at least 40 inmates aged above 60 years and belong to a category of destitute below poverty line.

Old age homes are increasingly becoming the last resort of the elderly in Chennai. While some are shunned or abandoned by their families there are some childless people who after the death of their spouse prefer to stay in old age homes. Thus many senior citizens face the prospect of a lonely death with staff having to attend the funeral proceedings. “It was the first death in Vishranti. We waited for the family to come but they didn’t turn up. That was the first pyre I’d lit. Since then I’ve lit many,” said Mrs.Savithri Vaithi who is the founder and chairperson of Vishranti, service arm of Monday Charity Club which covers destitute women with a blanket of comfort and security, in an interview to The Hindu.

Vishranti

Vishranti

Vishranti aims to address the simple,    essential and basic needs of these       women, namely, food, shelter, clothing, medicine, compassion and an honourable end. Vishranti was previously registered under Societies Regulation Act, during 1977. It converted into Vishranthi Charitable Trust and now has completed its 25 years of service to women elders. The old age home has had its slow growth, gained experience and has been expanding its activities.

Vishranti is the resting place for old people who are either childless or have been deserted by their children. Some people are depressed over the same while there are others who have accepted it and are happy with this style of living.

“They are easy to tackle at times but sometimes because of difference in opinion they fight over things. Then we counsel them over the same,” says Saraswati who currently manages the old age home.

There is a desperate need of government-owned old age homes as the number of people who want to live there is increasing rapidly. “Earlier, only destitute people sought shelter in places set up mostly by religious institutions, but things are changing,” says Sheilu Sreenivasan, founder of Dignity Foundation. The concept of an old age home in India is rapidly changing. For many of the inmates, they are like ‘haven’ through which they lead a happy life without causing any worry to their family members. “The growing value of individualism in modern societies is aiding the development of such facilities,”says Niharika Jiswal, Professor of Sociology at Delhi University. If on one hand individualism in modern societies is aiding the development of such facilities, then on the other there is rearrangement of human relationships where the bond blood no longer gives that kind of support as it once did. “Friendships, neighborhood etc are influencing our alliance. I think old age homes are answering to a large structural change. Their presence makes the entire shift in priorities more comfortable for those concerned. They are just a control mechanism,” she added.

But private old age homes are not easily accessible to everybody because of stringent requirements. In Vishranti, people with serious ailments are not allowed to be a part of the old age home. The ward undergoes series of tests before being admitted in the old age home. “If they have normal ailments like blood pressure problems and diabetes, we take them. They have to get some tests done and only after being approved by our doctors they are allowed to reside,” says Saraswati, manager of Vishranti. This condition in many old age homes restricts the number of prospective people who can be its part. “Senior citizens with mental health issues usually have no place to go to,” adds Ms. Sreenivasan .Thus a government-owned old age home is the only hope for many people who wish to reside there but are restricted due to some serious illness that they previously suffer.

Lakshmi Amma, 102, Vishranti

Lakshmi Amma, 102, Vishranti

“These private homes are good for middle-aged people and pensioners. What about poor people? Government should step in and run old age homes,” says Gowri Shankar,77, resident of an old age home.

In many old age homes in Chennai, it was found that their expenditure is way more than the funds dispensed by the government. While Vishranti receives Rs two lakh per annum, it spends Rs two-five lakh per month on the services provided. These funds have to meet the needs of more than 100 destitute women and men between the age group of 60-75 years currently staying in Vishranti. These organizations are totally dependent on the donations they receive in a month. While Vishranti receives around Rs 10,000 on some days, there are other days when the donors don’t turn up.

There is an Intermediate Nursing and Medical Board in Vishranti for those above 60-years-old who need continued medical and nursing care after being discharged from a regular hospital and where the family is unable to provide that care. It admits for nursing care and follows up treatment Post-operative patients or those suffereng from prolonged illness. They are kept for a maximum of three months with a charge of Rs 300 per day which is the charge of nursing and bed. Drugs,Drips,Oxygen Cylinder, Suction/Catheter Tubes used are charged as per their actual amounts.This is the only source of remuneration to pay salaries to around ten nursing staff, seven senior staff, a driver and four people working in the admin office. With around 20 beds available for admission, the I.N.M.U has a Chief Medical Officer, a doctor besides visiting consultants, a nursing supervisor along with staff nurses and few public health workers who are available to take care of the patients.

“The deductions in the tax decrease the number of donors as many give donations just to reduce the tax amount,” says Ravikant who runs another old age home in Chennai.

Thus the allocation of funds remains a very big hurdle in the proper working of such old age homes. “Across India, you’ll find around 20-30 dedicated projects meant for old people, not more,” says Ms Sreenivasan. A Chennai-based advocate Sudha Ramalingam, founder of Manonmani Trust, while narrating her struggle with Anbagam project in a village in Tiruvallur says, “No Corporate Social Responsibility fund was willing to donate”. The project of a three-storied building being built for 140 people needs Rs 50 lakh and still stands incomplete. Experts ask more to be done. “Even the welfare schemes of the government don’t benefit the lower or the middle-class,” said Gayathri Ananthakrishnan who is a senior manager at Dignity Foundation, Chennai.

Since the funds remain insufficient, there are various facilities that some old age homes lack. For example, Vishranti doesn’t have any professional counsellor who can help the residents adjust mentally with the turmoil they face while leaving their homes and families. “There are many who remain depressed after coming here. Some come here unwillingly because of family disputes and some have no one to take their care and hence they come here. They need professional counselling but we don’t provide it. How to manage without proper funds?” says Saraswati.

Such counselling is required especially when these people shift to old age homes because of family disputes. “My sons took turns to look after me after my wife died but I realised it was all for money. I’m better off here,” says Annadumb, 81.

“Once admitted, even if they face any serious illness, we’ll take full responsibility of them,” added Saraswati. Vishranti currently had around 5-6 women who are not mentally sound anymore. They have been locked in a room from outside and are made to stay separately. This questions the immediate need of the government’s responsibility to take charge of such people and make sure they live in conditions suitable to their health. “The lack of funds raises various problems for an NGO like ours. We find very difficult to carry out activities for which we started with Vishranti. Government needs to increase the amount of funding,” says Uma Devrajan, founder trustee, Vishranti.

There is thus an immediate need for fully government-owned old age homes especially for people who are not entertained very well by privately owned old age homes. The amount of funds currently dispensed by the Tamil Nadu government nowhere seems to benefit the cause. Rather it seems to favour a particular section of aged people while ignoring the other section.

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