Elderly people “imprisoned” in care homes are pleading to be allowed out to spend time with family amid warnings from operators that their mental health is “deteriorating rapidly”.
Residents who spoke to Times of Malta said they felt they were being “punished” while the chair of the Care Homes Operators business lobby with the Malta Chamber warned it could no longer be responsible for the consequences of restrictions.
COVID-19 measures are being slowly lifted across Malta but residents remain banned from stepping outside independently or with family.
Nathalie Briffa Farrugia said operators were “sorely disappointed” that the authorities have still not announced further easing of restrictions that were promised earlier this month.
“The elderly have been forgotten once again,” she said, describing the situation as “ageism at its best”.
“The mental health of the elderly is deteriorating rapidly and the consequence of this is no longer our responsibility. Relatives are desperate to see their loved ones. Residents should be allowed to see their vaccinated loved ones.”
Some 96% of those aged over 60 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and there have been no cases of COVID-19 in homes for the elderly for over a fortnight. During her weekly update on Friday, the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci said further easing of measures in care homes would be announced “within days”.
However, older people, who have been kept indoors for 15 months, are getting impatient.
Pawlu Ciappara, an 87-year-old resident of Central Home, in Mosta, said the restrictions had initially made them feel safe but now, with most people fully vaccinated, they want out.
“This feels like a punishment. It feels like prison. This is cruelty,” he said. “So far, I only left here for hospital visits. And whenever I did, I felt revived. Stepping beyond the threshold of the home boosts my health.”
When you wake up and see the ceiling still over your head – knowing you can’t go outside – it feels like prison
For the past months, he has been trying to get some form of exercise by walking around the corridors at the home.
“Until March we were not allowed out of our rooms. Now we are not allowed out of the home,” the retired bus driver added.
“How long can one stay inside? How much TV can one watch? We want to be allowed out. In here we are like a family, we are happy but when you wake up and see the ceiling still over your head – knowing you can’t go outside – it feels like prison.”
In March last year, homes for the elderly were closed to visitors as a measure to protect the residents.
Restrictions were slowly lifted this year, first allowing one visit a week and then removing the Perspex barrier during visits.
Since April, residents have been allowed two 25-minute visits every week, however, only two members from the same household are allowed during each visit.
Care homes are now permitted to organise outings for their residents but they cannot leave independently or with their family.
“Residents have been kept indoors for over 15 months and, now that most have been vaccinated, they feel imprisoned simply because they live within a community,” Farrugia Briffa said.
“They need to be reintegrated into society and they desperately need their families and their families need them. They want to be able to decide for themselves. They are no lesser citizens than their counterpart older person living at home.”
Pauline Galea, 88, can’t wait to be able to go out with her son on Sundays again. “He used to pick me up every weekend and take me for lunch at Mġarr.
“June 8 is his birthday and I really don’t want to miss it again,” she said, adding: “When I watch the news I see elderly people like us walking around. It’s not fair that, just because we live in a home, we cannot go out. Why are we being treated differently now that we are all vaccinated and the number of [positive] cases has dropped?”
Another resident, Pawlu Muscat, 84, added: “I don’t want to go to the village square. I want to go to our family field with my daughter and her family.”
Meanwhile, relatives of people in care homes have started a Change.org petition asking the authorities to open homes to contact visits by vaccinated relatives.