Norway’s local municipal governments (kommuner) are charged with providing elder care and nursing home services, and many like Oslo have been imposing property tax in order to shore up the funding they receive from the state. Services nonetheless continue to decline in line with cost-cutting, and both providers and taxpayers are feeling betrayed.
In Oslo, the Labour Party-led government that took over in 2015 immediately and controversially imposed property tax that was supposed to be earmarked for elder care (“500 more pairs of helping hands,” claimed Labour’s top city politician in Oslo, Raymond Johansen) and day care for children.
Newspapers Aftenposten and Dagsavisen, however, have reported recently how thousands of nursing home facilities in Oslo and elsewhere around the country are literally falling apart because maintenance has not been a priority. Staffing is also inadequate, charge elder-care advocates. As the much-anticipated tidal wave of elderly Norwegians builds, made up of all the baby-boomers born after World War II, cities like Oslo and other smaller communities are struggling with old nursing homes and care facilities that need an estimated NOK 37 billion (more than USD 4 billion) worth of repair and renovation.
Patterns of neglect
“That shower over there can’t be used,” noted Camilla Marie Andersen, general manager of the Lambertseter nursing home in Oslo, as she guided an Aftenposten reporter around earlier this year. Its user, Lambertseter resident Anna Sofie Dahl, now has to find her way down a narrow corridor to a common bathroom where an old bathtub isn’t hooked up either, but patients can be showered while sitting on a stool in the middle of the room.
The 40-year-old nursing home was also built before doors were made wide enough to allow wheelchair access, and is just one example of a facility that’s outdated and in poor repair. Andersen says the neglect is intentional as the city plans to build a new facility, leaving conditions in the meantime poor. “We try to do some patchwork repairs, but the residents will be moved in 2020,” she told Aftenposten. “Only minimal maintenance work is being done until then.”
Aftenposten reported that for the first time, an independent survey has been carried out of all Norwegian nursing homes nationwide built before 1998, and it has revealed major deficiencies. Many have “extremely poor” ventilation systems, poor lighting and are so outdated that elevators are too small to accommodate hospital beds. Electrical systems are also inadequate to power modern equipment. Rambøll, the consulting firm that carried out the survey, determined that 3,500 housing units for the elderly and 4,550 nursing home rooms will need to be replaced over the next 10 years.
State funds diverted
Health Minister Bent Høie, who’s in charge of doling out state health care funding to the local governments that then are charged with administering it, criticized how that funding is being spent. In some cases it’s not used for the elder care for which it was intentioned. “The kommuner must take responsibility and maintain the facilities they have,” he told Aftenposten.
Meanwhile, calls were going out for more regular surprise inspections of nursing homes around Norway, to monitor conditions. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported this spring about how a family member of a resident of the Hovseter nursing home in Oslo was “deeply shocked” to find her dement relative sitting alone, sucking on an empty cup and smelling of urine. Employees claimed they were so short-staffed that they weren’t able to provide enough attention and care to all their patients.
They said they’d welcome more monitoring, so that nursing home management and city officials will be forced to make improvements. Oslo taxpayers, meanwhile, are also likely to demand much better services and that the city’s controversial property tax revenues be clearly earmarked for elder care with corresponding improvements.