Barbados nursing home under investigation

JeniseBelgrave-1St George, Barbados — Gentle Folks Nursing Home located on breezy grounds, coconut tree-trimmed streets and the quiet of St George in Barbados is under investigation by the island’s ministry of health compliance officers following reports made to the ministry by a number of individuals regarding the treatment of elderly patients in the care of its owner.

According to reports, the Royal Barbados Police have also received complaints about the home, run by owner/managerJenise Belgrave, regarding the treatment of the elderly residents at the home.

Reports suggest that the government subsidised home has been associated with a number of deaths on the premises, such as to “cause great alarm (allegedly) to the coroner in Barbados”, according to a source wishing to remain anonymous but who has provided reliable documentary evidence and information.

A visit to the nursing home by a team of reporters (who went as ‘mystery shoppers’) was met with a place that on the outside looked more like a prison painted yellow, with closed curtains in the daytime, locked down and eerily quiet, than a place of respite and recreation for the elderly who need it most.

The elderly residents were not on the extensive grounds enjoying the afternoon air on the benches but were shut away, sitting on old, worn wrought iron furniture while no one would answer a wrought iron door with a giant padlock. There were no sounds either. No sound of a TV, a radio, music… just eerie silence with the elderly sitting upright like robots. It was sad to watch and evoked much emotion from reporters who then left again with no answer from Belgrave.

When another reporter was sent, it took more than 15 minutes for a young nursing assistant to find the keys to open the only ground floor door in sight at the official entrance to the home. Side doors were also locked tight. A man was collecting grazing sheep on the grounds but the people in the eldercare facility were seemingly “denied” the fresh air of a warm Barbados afternoon. One middle-aged man was holding onto the wrought-iron motioning to be released.

What concerned the reporters was the mixture of men with women and whether or not some of the men and women slept in separate quarters and whether some of the men and women also suffered mental illness that may warrant specialized housing elsewhere or on the facility in a different location to avoid any confusion or potential for harassment.

A Gentle Folks Nursing Home You Tube video shows patients exercising (albeit not with qualified therapists but nursing assistants), residents walking on the compound aided and holding hands with nursing assistants and generally enjoying the beautiful outdoors of the facility while Belgrave speaks highly of what the home has to offer and what reporters are yet to see.

With all exits barricaded, at least to visitors’ eyes, questions arise as to what happens if fire breaks out at the facility. Would all the elderly folk and nursing assistants perish?

Caribbean News Now tried to ask the Barbados ministry of health but, again, no one was available to answer our questions. However, documentation has been sent to the ministry for investigation relative to the home, prompting an acknowledgement that they will investigate and have conducted a few interviews. Otherwise, complaints seem to have gone unnoticed, with no reason offered.

While at first sight it may seem a simple matter for patients to be removed by concerned relatives, in some cases this may require court orders or other interventions prior to releasing a patient, according to medico-legal experts.

Since Belgrave would not make herself available for interview or comment, reporters contacted the ministry of health but were unable to reach Dr Kenneth George, who was on vacation. The chief medical officer Dr Joy St John was also on vacation and the officer in charge for compliance and investigations, Dr Leslie Rollock, was not returning calls or emails. Minister of health, Dr John Boyce, is also away in Switzerland on official business.

In the interim, the care and treatment of the elderly residents remains in the hands of Belgrave, who has patients in her facility that are suffering from various ailments requiring immediate medical intervention in some cases while, more disturbingly, patients are alleged to be losing weight rapidly while in her care.

Recently, Dr George, speaking to an association with interests in the care of the elderly, was reported by the Barbados Advocate newspaper to have said that caretakers in homes need to stop “skimping” on food to save costs, as well as to take greater care of those in their custody.

When another private (not government subsidized) home was contacted for comment, its spokesperson said that ministry of health compliance teams turn up “every five minutes” at their doorstep and make accusations but leave empty-handed since the homes are compliant, leading to suggestions that the issue of nursing care in Barbados is either being politicized or it is simply a matter of victimizing homes that are not government subsidized.

Meanwhile, Belgrave has apparently been reported to the local police, notwithstanding her self-proclaimed “reverence for life, and a heart for healing”.

Gentle Folks Nursing Home describes itself as Barbados’s “premier provider of geriatric care management and at-home assisted living services for patients and families suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other memory impairments”, prompting local observers to ask, if this is the “premier provider”, what are other government supported facilities like.

The coroner, Manila Renee, was unavailable for comment.

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