Care for the elderly must change

Edition 28 June, by Stephen Swai

Changes in the air

It seems that many Dutch people are unaware of how care for the elderly will drastically change in the coming years. Henk Kamp, Chairman of the Home Care and Nursing Care ActiZ, believes that this message should reach everyone, so that a mentality shift can start to take shape. Dutch people will have to prepare themselves for an old age that will look very different than today. “Currently there are 3 million people over the age of 65. In 20 years there will be 5 million,” said Kamp. “The number of elderly people with dementia will double, and there will soon be three times as many people over 90, while 5.5 million Dutch people will suffer from one or more chronic conditions,” he added.

Expensive and high turnover rates

Part of the problem with the current care for the elderly is that it is expensive and labor-intensive. Furthermore, employee turnover seems to be plaguing the sector, with high turnover rates due to unfavorable working conditions, including the bureaucratic system that puts too much emphasis on filling out forms. “That is a task for us. We must ensure that working conditions are such that we retain people,” said Kamp. With these problems looming, Kamp is advocating for a fundamental societal debate surrounding the issue, one that will bring various stakeholders to the table to brainstorm ideas and contribute solutions about care for the elderly.

Is there a solution?

On the ground, there is a feeling that things have to be done differently in order to reinvent a better system for elderly care. The first step, according to Kamp, is the realization that things are going to change, because the system as it stands today is untenable. “Society as a whole will have to be more caring in the future, as it shoulders the responsibility to do more for each other,” added Kamp. Currently, there are no solutions for what will happen in the next twenty years and that’s why there is a need for a multi-stakeholder discussion. Although the “how” may still be an unanswered question, Kamp has ideas on “what” needs to happen. First, care has to be customized according to the personal needs of the elderly. A one-size-fitsall approach doesn’t work. One elderly person has to exercise more, others want to express themselves creatively, sometimes visits to the doctor are necessary, and sometimes an online conversation is sufficient. The good news is that healthcare institutions have already started experimenting with the provision of customized care for the elderly. However, they experience difficulties in reconciling their tailor-made solutions with regulatory requirements. This is because bureaucracy doesn’t cater for customization and instead seeks to impose what is best for the average elderly person. Part of what people like Kamp are doing is trying to get rid of excess rules. On the other hand, one of the ways to ensure the quality of elderly care is by focusing on preventive care. On the issue of employee turnover, it has been advised that the Dutch should not forget that the labor market today is European, not just Dutch. This means that there should be more opportunities for people from other EU countries to come and provide elderly care in the Netherlands.

Healthcare financing

Currently, hospital managers are spending too much time looking for funding from the government and insurers, instead of dedicating their efforts on matters like innovation in the care for the elderly. Although these professionals play an important role, they don’t always get recognition for their efforts. Instead, they are seen as part of the problem. However, said Kamp: “You cannot provide care to millions of people, seven times a week, 24 hours, 365 days a year, if things are not well organized. Hospital managers are responsible for this and they play an important role in making sure quality care for the elderly is available to all.”