A home, a village for older folks | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

A home, a village for older folks

Filipinos take great pride in our “family values,” specifically in the way families make room and time for older members who share a home with them.

But sometimes, we have to give our cultural assumptions a second look. For many folks, looking after older relatives, especially those suffering from debilitating conditions and serious illnesses that require round-the-clock care, can be beyond their resources—financial, emotional, physical and time-wise.

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Even among middle-class and upper-middle-class families, caring for elderly relatives can be a strain, because not everyone has the time, room, or ability to provide daily care. And even if a family can make room for an ailing member and can afford to hire full-time help, questions linger about the quality of care their relatives receive, especially when the other members of the family have to be away from home for most of the day.

Filipinos look askance at families abroad who choose the nursing home option. Especially for Filipinos living abroad, putting a parent or grandparent in a nursing home or independent living facility can bring on spasms of guilt or shame, believing they have violated one of our most important and valued practices.

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But the strains of modern times and the realities of two-income households don’t always make the “in-house” option feasible. Besides, how do we know our elderly members are receiving the level of care they need and deserve from untrained house help who may not value them as we do?

Besides, the pride we take in looking after our own personalizes and individualizes what should be a social responsibility. Caring for the older and more vulnerable members of society should be seen as a communal commitment, not just in terms of social insurance and security, but also in thinking about the way we plan our communities and adjust for the varying needs of people of all ages. It takes a village to raise a child, as well as to look after a senior citizen.

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Well, one village at least seems inclined to shirk the social calling to give older members of the community the quality of life they need and deserve.

Rain Tree Care, a company committed to providing care facilities for the elderly, as well as providing training in geriatric care for Filipino nurses and other medical personnel, is planning to convert a residence inside San Jose Village in Muntinlupa into a care facility for potentially eight residents/clients at a time. “We wanted to locate it in a gated community because of safety considerations and because we wanted our elderly clients to take part in community life, to be able to walk to stores, the chapel and community parks,” explains Marc Daubenbuechel, a German national with Rain Tree.

But when Rain Tree approached the San Jose Homeowners Association, it met with some unexpected opposition. In a letter to the homeowner, the SJV homeowners association said that in a meeting of the board, the application was rejected because it was “not in compliance with existing laws, rules and regulations governing our village.” The letter also said the board deemed the application as “not timely and not currently beneficial to the general welfare of the community.”

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Apparently, residential care facilities are considered “commercial establishments” here, so some existing old-age homes have to be located in public, commercial areas.

This, despite the fact that in San Jose Village, there are more than 20 commercial or at least nonresidential facilities, “from schools to cold storage, to chicken farms.”

Someone acquainted with the issue said some homeowners also objected to the establishment of a care facility because of fears of traffic, trash disposal and congestion—although how visiting family members of eight elderly at a time could cause traffic problems is beyond me. A letter written by an SJV homeowner revealed a hidden motive: The village, he said, should be occupied by “young, healthy and attractive” homeowners instead of old and ailing senior citizens.

The Rain Tree residents will be looked after by specially-trained nurses and caregivers who will be trained in geriatric care while doctors/specialists will be on call and paying them regular visits.

The dispute between Rain Tree and the homeowners association could be considered a test case: Not just between a private care company and a neighborhood association, but also between our collective social responsibility toward our older citizens and the short-sighted concerns of their potential neighbors.

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As it is, many elderly and ailing Filipinos, and their loving families, have had to make do with makeshift arrangements. Some have had to put up with sub-par care and treatment from available relatives, house help or “alalay.” Others have had to endure long-term (and very expensive) hospital stays.

Rain Tree’s petition for a reconsideration or reclassification of long-term care facilities is supported by Muntinlupa’s Office of Senior Citizens Affairs, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, the Philippine Retirement Authority, and the Department of Health.

A resident of San Jose Village, who supports Rain Tree’s petition and is appalled at the decision of the homeowners association, said she was concerned about the issue because “that is where we are all headed.” A senior citizen, she knows illness and debilitation lie somewhere down the road for her and for most other seniors out there.

It’s time we began to think about issues of aging with pragmatism and practicality, without letting sentimentality get in the way of making realistic and practical, but nevertheless humane, decisions. It’s time our national village addressed this issue.

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TAGS: family values, Muntinlupa, nursing home, Rain Tree Care, San Jose Village, Senior citizens
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