International Day of Older Persons: whole of society can empower the elderly

Albert Fritz, MPP

Western Cape Minister of Social Development

With today marking International Day of Older Persons the Western Cape Government is proud to be playing a leading role implementing integrated services for the care, support and protection of older persons.

Key to our efforts is adopting a whole-of-society approach, which involves building partnerships with the private sector, NGOs, and individuals in our communities.

The Department of Social Development, through its Older Persons Programme, and in line with the Older Persons Act, will continue the campaign to register all residential facilities, whether state funded or private. This enables us to monitor the treatment and care of all older persons and to protect their rights and dignity at all times.

The Older Persons Act prescribes three types of residential facilities;

  1. Independent living,
  2. Assisted living,
  3. And, frail care facilities.

The department has over the past five years increased our funding to NGOs rendering support services, residential and assisted living facilities to the elderly, and now spend just over R174 million assisting them.

The department funds a total of 345 organizations which provide key services to older persons, with a special focus on promoting a developmental approach to ageing which also seeks to keep older persons in their families and communities for as long as possible.

The Western Cape has just over 520 000 people aged 60 years and older, and the department places great emphasis on empowering older persons, and not treating them as one homogenous grouping.

As such, in terms of an older persons social and health assessment there are 3 categories once a person turns 60;

Above 60 years Status Category
Independent Living Mobile and sound health 1
Assisted living Need some assistance 2
Frail (mental or physical) Bedridden 3

Some older persons live on their own, others with family or friends and some move into a residential facility (Old Age Home). Once they become frail and vulnerable and/or develop dementia, or have a stroke, or any other debilitating disease, they require 24 hour care.

The Older Persons Act empowers the department to monitor residential facilities, and ensure their compliance with stringent norms and standards of care for the elderly, especially as it relates to frail care. All residential facilities caring for the elderly must be registered with the department.

The department registers a residential facility only once a social development assessment, health assessment, and local government assessment (building regulations, fire and safety requirements), is conducted. In addition, a home must also be managed by a registered Non-Profit organisation/NGO or section 21 company as required by law.

The department does not run or manage any residential facilities, and thus makes subsidies available to registered homes. In this regard, proof of governance and sound financial skills according to the PFMA act is paramount, with a board holding regular meetings ensuring compliance and care to the elderly, and a manager reporting to the Board of Trustees.

The health, safety and development of older persons are the departments first priority.

These are just some of the many programmes the Department of Social Development has put in place to assist and compliment the good work being done by NGOs and other government departments and individuals.

However the success of our interventions depends on continued partnerships with communities and citizens. Most importantly, we need every individual to take responsibility for promoting the safety and well-being of the elderly in their communities.