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Care home scandal prompts call for senior affairs ombudsman

Christian Democrat chair Sari Essayah appealed for better state monitoring of elderly care and obligatory employee registers to stop the use of "ghost nurses". 

Sari Essayah Ylen Ykkösaamussa 2. helmikuuta.
MP Sari Essayah has called for stricter legislation to deal with maltreatment in senior homes. Image: Yle

Finland's Christian Democrat political party chair Sari Essayah appeared on Yle's morning television programme on Saturday to demand stricter oversight of the country's elder care services.

An ongoing scandal over negligent care standards in privately-run homes for the elderly inspired a crisis meeting on Friday, which led to a list of 25 promises of improvement. The CEO of the chain of senior care facilities accused of the maltreatment, Esperi Care, recently resigned over the scandal.

A confidence motion in the government signed by every opposition party was also submitted to the parliamentary speaker on Friday, with debate will take place next week Wednesday and a vote scheduled for Friday.

No more "ghost nurses"

Persistent understaffing and a shortage of workers in Finnish care facilities have led many locations to introduce what has become known as a "ghost nurse" protocol, where names of workers who aren't actually present are entered into the shift list.

"It is completely incomprehensible and contrary to fundamental health care ethics that a practice such as this has gained a foothold in our country. It must be eliminated quickly," Essayah said.

She suggests both introducing sanctions for instances of neglect that are discovered and a register system like the kind used in the construction industry, whereby the identity of each employee is verified with their ID and tax number.

Looking after the best interests of the elderly

As head of the Christian Democrats, Essayah also proposes the establishment of an official state ombudsman to oversee the status and equal treatment of Finland's elderly population.

She said the new position could be combined with more unannounced inspections of care facilities on the part of Finnish authorities.

"Care institutions are now told in advance when the inspections will take place, so of course they have the time to arrange it so that everything is in order," she said.

Essayah also proposed that the law be changed to require a certain number of staff per customer in such facilities. She suggests a ratio of 7 caregivers for every 10 occupants, but says that if the need for care is lighter, there could be some flexibility in this area.

"We need a fresh air guarantee, to make sure senior care home occupants get outside a few times a day, but we would also need a meal guarantee, a hygiene guarantee, and a community guarantee that would make it impossible to separate elderly couples, for example," she said.

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