Care homes see mass exodus
By Lina Giannarou
Grandma and grandpa’s pension has become the main source of income for thousands of Greek families struggling with unemployment, along with rising living costs and taxes. This shift has been accompanied by a mass evacuation of retirement homes across the country as elderly family members move in with their children and grandchildren in order to make ends meet.
“There is a good deal of movement as many families decide to move their elderly relatives into their homes so they can cut care costs and make use of their pensions,” Stelios Prosalikas, head of the Greek Association of Care Units for the Elderly, told Kathimerini recently.
Prosalikas said that the decision to take on the care of elderly relatives is rarely a simple one.
“For someone to be in a care facility, it normally means that they are quite ill and require special attention,” he explained. “But it looks like many people are ready to take on the challenge in order to avoid paying for care facilities.”
Greece has around 200 nursing homes for the elderly, half of which are private facilities while the other half are run by nongovernmental organizations and the Orthodox Church. Their total capacity is estimated at 15,000 people.
According to Prosalikas, before the crisis, these facilities were operating at 100 percent capacity. Today, however, this has dropped to 80 percent as one-fifth of their patients have left.
“The number of beds available used to be considered inadequate for demand, but today there are empty beds in almost every nursing home in the country,” he added.
On a more personal level, a woman who wished to be identified only as I.F. explained how she has to contribute to the cost of her grandmother’s care at a facility in the southern suburbs of Athens as the elderly woman’s pension is not enough.
“I am seriously considering bringing her to my home,” she told Kathimerini.
“That way, we will only have the rent of my house to pay and I will have some cash left over at the end of each month. But it is a tough decision which will basically mean having to give up my personal life for my grandmother, who suffers from a lot of health problems.”
I.F. is not alone in her dilemma. On the one hand, having an extra source of income in the house is an attractive prospect, but caring for elderly relatives, especially those who are sick, requires a lot of time and money.
“The cost of care at home can also be quite high,” said Prosalikas, adding that most retirement homes have reduced their fees in a bid to curb the flight of residents, with most now costing under 1,000 euros a month for a shared room.
At the same time, the average monthly salary of a nurse providing home care can reach around 500 euros a month, explained Prosalikas.
Of course there are many cases where taking an elderly relative into one’s home is not an option, especially people with illnesses such as dementia, who require around-the-clock care.
“The state does not provide for such cases in any way, so people have no other option but nursing homes,” Costis Prouskas, a psychologist and managing director of the Aktios facility in Athens, told Kathimerini.
“Only someone who is unemployed would consider taking on the responsibility of caring for someone with advanced Alzheimer’s at home,” he said, adding that another option is moving the elderly relative to a cheaper facility or having them share a room with one or even two other patients.
How the situation develops depends entirely on the course of the Greek economy.
“Taking elderly relatives out of retirement homes has become something of a ‘solution’ to the unemployment problem,” said Prosalikas.
“Most of the unemployed people in this country are surviving on the pensions of their parents or grandparents anyway rather than on their unemployment benefits. If unemployment continues to rise, then so will the evacuation of nursing homes,” he added.