Disabled seek alternative to rest home life

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2013

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Hundreds young disabled people are still being cared for in aged-care rest homes more than two years after a deadline to stop the "unsatisfactory" practice.

A scathing social services committee inquiry in 2008 criticised the situation of more than 500 working-aged people living in rest homes and gave the Government a two-year deadline to find alternative accommodation for the disabled.

Yet almost five years on, about 500 working-aged people were living in rest homes last year, including five people aged under 30, according to Ministry of Health figures.

CCS Disability Action figures show an even more alarming picture as the number of people living in rest homes increased to 738 in 2011 - up 54 people since 2008.

The figures differ because CCS counts young people living at rest homes, but who don't qualify for disability funding.

At the age of 55, Tame Hei Hei has boyish looks compared to his former flatmates.

The Tauranga man had been pegged in at a rest home for six years after suffering a stroke, but a new residential unit for the disabled has granted him freedom.

"I was too young to be there. This new home is fabulous - miles apart from the rest home."

Hei Hei is now a success story, but disability advocates have slammed the Government's lack of action for the hundreds of other young people living with the elderly.

Green Party disability spokeswoman Mojo Mathers said successive Governments have failed to address the issue.

"Rest homes are not appropriate places for young people even on a short-term basis, let alone longer-term," she said.

"I have spoken to young people in this situation and they find it highly distressing and socially isolating.

"The routines and activities in rest homes are just not appropriate for young people."

Rest homes should be the last resort, if a resort at all, CCS chief executive David Matthews said.

"We're almost condemning young people to that environment for the rest of their lives. We should be doing better."

Group outings, set dinner times and activities geared for the elderly restricted the lives of those under-65, he said.

"We believe all disabled people should have the right to live in a home of their choice."

However, the Government says a shared-living unit for people with a physical disability, opened in Tauranga on January 24, is proof of progress.

Hei Hei is one of the eight new residents, who are aged from 23 to 65. Six of the new tenants of the refurbished motel are former rest home residents.

Hei Hei said his new-found freedom is "fabulous", after going from living with 100 elderly to having one with flatmates his age.

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The greatest advantage was the freedom to go out as he pleases, he said.

"The next chapter of my life is beginning here, helping me to be more independent."

Cerebral palsy sufferer Peter Tavish, 46, is another resident of the new unit.

"We're all one family. We all go out and about."

He said the Government needed to give better support to the disabled.

"[Prime Minister] John Key needs to understand people with disabilities. I want him to come and see me, but he's far too busy."

IRIS, a charitable organisation owned by the Cerebral Palsy Society, runs the accommodation.

Chief executive John Wade said progress has been made in the last few years, with new accommodation units opening.

"It's smaller, more natural and homelike and less institutional," he said of the new home.

The Ministry of Health defended the progress made in setting up suitable homes for the disabled people.

But the numbers still fall short.

There are 371 people living at 77 homes set up for people with physical disabilities across the country, up from 299 people residing in residential care homes in 2007.

Disability Support Services group manager Toni Atkinson said the Choices in Community Living project just launched in Auckland and Waikato, would further aid disabled people living in rest homes to find new homes.

- Sunday Star Times

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