The Vulnerable Senior Citizens, Private Care Homes and COVID-19

June 18th, 2020

I attended a press briefing by the Ministry of Health and Wellness this evening. The theme was “Protecting the Vulnerable,” a topic I have been addressing in recent posts. So, what does vulnerable mean in the Ministry’s view? Basically, older people (although the age limit varies from “over 60″ to “over 70,” etc. However, the critical factor is, as Professor Dr. Denise Eldemire Shearer noted, what she called “functional capacity.” For example, a 63-year-old may have a serious disability and therefore although not over 65 be particularly vulnerable. A 70-year-old may be relatively stronger health-wise, take regular exercise etc.

Having said that, Professor Eldemire Shearer reminded us that 72 percent of Jamaicans over 60 years old have chronic diseases – primarily hypertension and diabetes (24 percent of this group suffering from diabetes and around 16 percent suffering from both these conditions). This is pretty disturbing stuff. Twice as many women as men are in this highly vulnerable group also, because of obesity – another “underlying condition” that we must always take into account.

So far, the Chief Medical Officer reported, we have had 50 cases of COVID-19 over the age of 60 years, and five deaths in that age group. We have also had four deaths in the 40 to 59 year age group, however.

Considering how important this group is in terms of spread, this evening’s press briefing was surprisingly short, lasting just over an hour. I enjoyed Oliver Samuels’ phrasing of the questions (and he asked some important ones, not necessarily related to the elderly). He also reminded us, in his inimitable way, of social distancing, washing hands,

However, I had requested an update on the inspection of private nursing homes, and this was not forthcoming. Nevertheless, I can report that 782 staff at the infirmaries have been tested and only one found to be positive; which is encouraging. Considering that the (mostly unregistered) homes are “vulnerable settings,” as the CMO would describe them, I would have expected more attention to be paid to them. I await more information.

Regarding the “elderly,” the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP), the non-governmental organization that supports Jamaicans fifty years and over, has been working hard to support “shut-ins,” partnering with Food for the Poor Jamaica. CCRP donated J$500,000 in outreach funds and the Jamaica Constabulary Force delivered food and care packages to indigent senior citizens on CCRP’s behalf. The organization is also providing advice to its members – including reminders that those over 65 should stay home and only leave home for essentials (food shopping, medications, doctor’s visits); to practice social distancing and proper hygiene at all times; and to wear masks.


Alzheimer’s Jamaica, another non-governmental organization, notes that COVID-19 adds another layer of concern:

Due to cognitive impairment, people living with dementia have a greater risk for COVID-19 exposure. Memory problems make instructions problematic to remember. For example, it can be difficult to understand instructions about social distancing (staying 2 meters from others), or hand hygiene, restrictions on walking outside, or reasons for wearing a mask. Eventual lack of insight can result in behaviour that increases risk of exposure for themselves and for their families and carers. It is most important that society does not place any blame, stigma or guilt on people with dementia because of these risks, since it is a consequence of the dementia disorder. Nevertheless, awareness of these risks is important for the protection of people with dementia and those around them.

So these organizations, and many other community-based groups are caring for our senior citizens. Let’s support them.

Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (serving the communities of Lyndhurst Road, Greenwich Farm and beyond, including men, women and youth). (876) 929-8873

Caribbean Community of Retired Persons: Tel:(876) 469-1944 Check out their Facebook page for further updates.

Alzheimer’s Jamaica: c/o Caribbean Institute for Health Research, Epidemiology Research Unit, 7 Ring Road, The University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7  Tel: (876) 881-6370  @alzheimersja Like their Facebook page.

A final word from Oliver Samuels, this evening: “In order to fight and win, we must listen to the experts,” he remonstrated, reminding us: “We are opening up. Nuh mek wi get cayliss!” 

If we do the right thing, Mr. Samuels maintained, “Together we are going to conquer.”


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4 Responses to “The Vulnerable Senior Citizens, Private Care Homes and COVID-19”

  1. Theodore Monk says:

    This is a welcome piece, and it seems that owners of the care homes have done an admirable job to avoid the horror stories about COVID-19 in such homes in some ‘more advanced’ countries.
    All governments that I watch have done a terrible job with their “stay home” guidance; because that’s all they say! A person not accustomed to that lifestyle risks serious mental and physical health issues from prolonged social isolation and immobility. COVID-19 makes a modest (at most) addition to the probability of dying from some case in the next few months, so the risks of prolonged social isolation may present a greater threat to such seniors than does COVID-19.
    At the end of the day, the only excuse I see for that guidance is that hospital space, doctors and nurses are not ready (trained) to deal with sudden influx of a lot of persons with COVID-19 issues. So let us not pretend this is about “protecting seniors”, when you are 100% silent about the risks of prolonged social isolation.

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    Well, so far so good regarding the care homes. A concern still lingers however – partly because of the situation in other countries, and also because I know most of them are unregistered and need to be carefully monitored… Yes, the mental health issue is not inconsiderable for senior citizens. So many live alone, anyway, and are now separated from their family, grandchildren etc. Now. You have a good point that we are afraid of being overwhelmed – our resources are extremely limited (especially perhaps our human resources). Still, now we have opened up our borders our numbers are now beginning to rise more substantially. Our first batch of COVID-positive tourists today! All from the U.S. Let’s see how things go.

  3. The care homes are cash cows for the owners. so many people are suffering in those homes,especially mute stroke vitims. The government needs to enact strict laws governing these homes and monitor them to ensure compliance with the law.
    The workers are untrained and unqualified to care for people with certain illnesses such as stroke.

    I would urge the gleaner to do a thorough investigation of these unregistered private care homes.

  4. EmmaLewis says:

    Your comments support my worst fears. I am very concerned that there has been a lack of oversight of our most vulnerable population, especially now in the time of COVID-19. Thank you for your comments and I hope that more light will be shed on this problem, as soon as possible.