A litany of revelations about terrible conditions at several rest homes have headlined the news recently. Residents at these institutions have had to cope with rotten food, dirty bed linen, cockroaches and abominable manners from staff. The latest case emerged in the Panagitsa rest home in Ano Glyfada. There, an elderly woman was found beaten and bleeding as staff ignored her. This group home does not have an operating permit, but authorities have known that since 1998. Panagitsa’s latest sins were uncovered during an investigation prompted last August by the City of Athens. The city’s investigation resulted in the closing of many rest homes and in the prosecution of their owners. But Athens Prefect Yiannis Sgouros says the investigation also shows how much more can be done to clean up the burgeoning rest home industry. «We saw images that insult our culture, our country, and especially our humanity,» he said. «People were living in quarters which weren’t even fit for dogs.» Despite the recent successes in shutting down bad rest homes, the municipality’s hands are essentially tied. The legal framework doesn’t allow the municipal authorities to jump on every case and see results. «On the other hand, if we shut down all the home that don’t have permits, where will all the residents go?» Sgouros said. «The fines are relatively low – about 15,000 euros – and most rest home operators just pay the fines instead of making the changes they should to their rest homes.» According to data from the City of Athens, in the 45 municipalities and three communities in the greater Athens area, there are 90 rest homes for the elderly, of which 71 are private, with a total of 3,100 beds. Nineteen of the 90 homes are non-profit, and these have a total of 1,000 beds. Of the 71 private rest homes, 25 do not have permits. Of those, 13 have been prosecuted and 12 are in the process of being monitored. Those non-profit group homes – often church-sponsored – don’t require normal permits but have been sanctioned by the appropriate authority. «Because they are non-profits, we tolerate [the lack of proper permits],» Sgouros said. Perverse situation The quality of rest homes varies wildly. «As in every field, ours has excellent group homes as well as group homes into which you are embarrassed to set foot,» said Stelios Prosalikas, who leads the association for rest homes. «But there is a way to clean up this field.» At the very least, he continued, these group homes must have the same standards and practices as the country’s hotels. That way, it would be easier to rate the institutions. «Unfortunately, cheap group homes also have more beds,» Prosalikas said. «That’s why illegal rest homes are flourishing – due to their low costs… And care without money has not yet been invented.» Rest homes in Greece are not compelled to improve the conditions in their buildings, nor do they take part in European programs or even most insurance programs, he added. This, combined with the fact that Greece’s elderly population in rest homes is so low, «is setting up a perverse situation,» Prosalikas said. If a sick person is referred to a hospital, he or she is usually covered by state insurance, but if that same person is referred to a rest home due to ill health, he or she is not. This means that many hospital beds in hospitals and clinics are permanently occupied by elderly people. Prosalikas said that if insurance companies subsidized more elderly people in rest homes, people would get far better care in their twilight years. He said Greek insurance companies should examine how American insurance firms handle similar situations there. Sgouros, the Athens prefect, hopes to see the development of both more municipal rest homes and the program known as «Help at Home,» which encourages live-in nurses or domestic help for the elderly. He added that the municipality is working on a new institutional framework through which authorities can better monitor rest homes.