Nursing home needs hidden

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It’s far more difficult than it should be to secure a nursing home room in Oslo, claim would-be residents, their families and bureaucrats alike. That’s not what Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg or city officials want to hear.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg at a care facility in Lillehammer last month. He claims his government is making elder care a priority, as nursing home needs grow. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontoret

They’d nonetheless better listen, advise elder care advocates who also believe that the need for nursing home care is far greater than statistics suggest. That, reports newspaper Aftenposten, is because the elderly are reluctant to complain and often are told not to even bother applying for nursing home care, because the waiting lists are so long. Their needs thus go unreported.

Stoltenberg devoted much of his recent annual New Year’s address to the growing need for elder care, and how his government is making it a priority. A recent survey of those allotting nursing home rooms to applicants in Oslo indicates that Stoltenberg and the municipal officials in charge locally need to allocate more immediate funding for nursing home expansion and staffing.

The survey, conducted by Professor Tor Inge Romøren for county medical officials in Oslo and Akershus, showed that 40 percent of those questioned in Oslo said the requirements for nursing home care were too high. In suburban Akershus, 18 percent said the same.

That’s in line with experience in Norwegian cities, that it’s harder to obtain nursing home spots in urban areas than in suburban or rural areas. One nursing home doctor in Oslo told Aftenposten that she had to send home an elderly man with dementia just before Christmas, when temperatures were as cold as minus-20C, because he was denied a permanent nursing home spot. “I called the person handling his case and absolved ourselves of all responsibility, because what we were forced to do went against our recommendation (that he be granted a nursing home room),” Dr Pernille Bruusgaard told Aftenposten. “We felt it was irresponsible to send him home, we were afraid he’d wander outdoors and not find his way home.”

There are few private nursing home alternatives in Norway so the elderly and their families are largely at the mercy of township officials who have limited capacity to offer at the publicly funded institutions. Dr Petter Schou, a county administrator in Oslo and Akershus, doesn’t think the townships should be able to operate with waiting lists. “This isn’t like dealing with someone who needs a knee operation,” Shou told Aftenposten. “Those who apply for nursing home care are much sicker than even just 10 years ago, and they shouldn’t be put in a queue.”

Cecilie Brein of the Progress Party, who’s now in charge of health and elder care in Oslo, agrees that it’s too difficult to secure nursing home space. It’s also a problem that practices vary from district to district, Brein said, adding that efforts are being made to streamline the allocation process.

“Everyone has the right to individual evaluation,” Brein said, and she urged patients to complain if they don’t get the service they need and to which they’re entitled. “All complaints are taken very seriously,” she said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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