Letter from Elsewhere: Mrs Williams

Published: Tue 2 Feb 2010 02:27 PM
Letter from Elsewhere - By Anne Else Mrs Williams
Elderly woman loses home help
The Press, 7/10/2009
Home help for elderly under attack
Press release from Jim Anderton, 7/10/2009
“When my office contacted the CDHB, it was told that ‘families will need to take more responsibility for their elderly parents...If old people can’t go out shopping, there’s always on-line shopping; and if they can’t manage the cleaning they can just clean one room a day with a carpet sweeper.’”
Fears for elderly as home-care hours cut
Otago Daily Times, 22/10/2009
Elderly lose home help after SCDHB reviews
Timaru Herald, 15/12/2009
New assessment cuts home help for 1200 elderly
The Press, 27/01/2010
Phone assessments result in less aid
Dominion Post, 30/01/2010
One woman, in her 80s, was asked if she could move around all right and, when she said she found it difficult to hang out washing, was told to get her son to make a box for her to stand on... "They did not realise she was reliant on a walker and a wheelchair."
Mrs Williams was reading the paper. It was a bit of a business now – she had to use a magnifying glass, as well as her glasses – but she managed.
Out in the hall, the phone rang. By the time Mrs Williams got to it, the woman on the other end sounded quite cross.
“Oh, you are home”, she said. “I was just going to hang up!”
“I’m sorry”, said Mrs Williams, “it does take me a long time. You see, I’m – “
“Well, never mind”, said the woman. “I’m calling on behalf of the District Health Board.”
“Can you just wait a minute while I sit down? I’m – “
“It won’t take long, and I do have 29 more people to call this morning. I just need to ask you a few questions.”
By this time Mrs Williams had managed to sit down, so she said “Yes, I’m ready now.”
“Good. Now, are you mobile? I suppose you must be, since you managed to get to the phone.”
“Yes, I can move around again now, I - ”
“Great. So are you able to push a carpet sweeper? So much easier to manage than a vacuum cleaner.”
“A carpet sweeper? I haven’t had one of those for a long time…”
“No, no, but if you did have one, could you push it?”
“Er – well, I suppose I might be – “
“Excellent. One room a week, that’s the secret. What about washing? Do you have a washing machine?”
“Yes, and a dryer.”
“Oh really? But I see your home help has been hanging the clothes out for you.”
“Well, with the cost of electricity, I don’t – “
“So no need to have someone do that, is there, you can just pop it all straight from one machine to the other. Now, what about the kitchen? Do you use it much?”
“I’m afraid I can’t manage much in the way of cooking now – I have one of those Ezimeals at lunchtime and – “
“Marvellous, aren’t they – no fuss, no mess – and your kitchen hardly needs cleaning at all, does it! So that just leaves the bathroom – I assume you do have only the one?”
“Yes, but you know, the cleaning - I’m afraid – oh, this is very embarrassing. But you see, I do sometimes have trouble using the toilet properly and it – well – “
“Quick flick round with the loo brush takes care of that, though, eh. But I would think cleaning the shower is probably a bit beyond you!” And she made a kind of honking noise that Mrs Williams realised was laughter.
“Right, well, I think I’ve got the picture. I’ll put you down for an hour a fortnight, that should cover it. We’ll be in touch again when that’s been approved. I know you’re used to having an hour and a half a week, but obviously you don’t really need all that. Still, you’re lucky, you know, lots of people aren’t getting anything at all. Bye for now!” And she hung up.
Mrs Williams put the phone back, heaved herself up from the not very comfortable seat of her walker, carefully manoeuvered it around so she could reach the handles, and pushed her way slowly over to her chair by the window, wincing as one of her heavily bandaged legs caught the corner of the couch.
Her hand shook more than usual as she picked up the cup of tea her neighbour had made for her when she dropped in half an hour ago. It was still warm enough to be comforting.
Two months later she slipped on the grimy bathroom floor, broke her hip and had to be moved to a rest home. They had trouble finding her a bed - there had been a surge in demand lately, and the health board was trying to work out why, because costs were going through the roof.
“Oh well,” said the CEO wearily to his sidekick, a smart young woman with a shiny new public policy MA, “I suppose we’ll just have to cut back somewhere else.”
She looked thoughtful. “We’ve done home help, not much fat there - what about personal care? Showering and all that?”
“Great idea. Really, once a week should be enough – it’s not as if the old dears were going to the gym every day!” And they both laughed.
- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service. Anne blogs at

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