WOW | Care

Hope Hermitage – PROTECTING THE ELDERLY DURING COVID-19

Pramila Bajracharya Thapa

With the mission of facilitating care, support and motivating senior citizens to live a healthy and fulfilling social life, Pramila Bajracharya Thapa founded Hope Hermitage in 2014 in Kathmandu. She is the founder and proprietor of Hope Hermitage Elderly Care now located in Gairidhara. A pioneer in Alzheimer’s and related dementia care services in the country, Hope Hermitage assures that senior citizens live in dignity. The inhabitants are provided facilities aligned to their physical, mental and psychological wellbeing. Currently, they serve 42 senior citizens: 32 through residential care and 10 through in-home care.

As the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the country, the elderly are at higher risk. WOW caught up with Pramila Bajracharya Thapa to talk about the challenges faced by the elderly during the lockdown and how are they shielding residents from exposure to COVID-19. Excerpts:

Interviewed by: Pabita Dahal
wow photo file © Sabina Mainali

Senior citizens fall within a bracket that is highly predisposed to COVID-19. Your thoughts.

The news coverage says “Sufferers of COVID-19 are more likely to be elderly people”. Though the rate of infection in Nepal is low, senior citizens are scared of of the day when it spreads rapidly. They are terrified that the virus would kill them. Most average elders in Nepal are not educated. They do not have proper knowledge of the Coronavirus pandemic. As inadequate information is dangerous, we must educate them about what it is exactly and comfort them.

How are Hope Hermitage inhabitants coping with the lockdown?

Even in the lockdown, we are managing to bring all the groceries and provide all other facilities as before. To prepare the elderly people for the lockdown and educate them about the Coronavirus, we conducted an orientation program by medical students of Patan Hospital. Besides, elders also update themselves daily through the news about what is happening around the world. If they get confused at any point or misunderstand, we help them comprehend. Considering the situation, we have completely stopped visitors and new admissions. We did this three weeks before lockdown and our resident families appreciated our decision. We have provided two separate contact numbers 24/7 so that their loved ones can be in contact at any time.

What are the preventive measures you take?

We have given more focus on social distancing. Complete close down for visitors was the first step. Caregivers used to work in three shifts earlier. But considering the current situation, I have asked those who come from far and are unable to give 24 hours to stay at home. But they would get their regular salary and resume work when the situation normalises. I have assigned only those who can serve 24 hours and I pay them extra for their service. None of the staff goes out. They stay here at Hope Hermitage for 24 hours and serve the elders. For in-home care, one caregiver does a 24 hour shift staying at the same house instead of three different caregivers for three shifts. In case of emergency such as doctors for a regular checkup, we ensure they have adopted the precautions like wearing the gown, gloves, washing hands, taking their temperature, etc. To avoid infection from groceries we only take these inside the house after keeping them at least for half an hour under the sun.

Is social distancing a big worry for senior citizens?

Definitely. In old age, people love the interaction and being surrounded by loved ones. But the lockdown demands something which is the completely opposite -social distancing. However, we have tried our best to help them deal with their loneliness by being there for them 24/7. In the initial days, some elder residents protested about us not allowing their visitors. But they understood when we explained about the virus.

What are the other challenges in the current time?

Though we have managed to adopt safety measures, it gets very challenging in emergency cases. Sometimes elders become so sick that we even don’t get time to think about wearing gowns and gloves in a hurry to get them to the hospital. I feel insecure at such times. Police inquiries and interruptions also create problems in emergency cases. Likewise, hospitals do not give admission easily. Most senior citizens are suffering from chronic diseases and the first symptom of any such disease is often fever and body pain. Medical professionals are scared to give admission and treatment suspecting it to be Coronavirus. The most painful thing is not having the pass for people like us who are working for such vulnerable groups. We are likely to be in an emergency situation often to take the elderly to hospital and to go out to buy medicines for them.

Senior citizens at Hope Hermitage share their thoughts

Saraswati Rai, 87


I am scared of the Coronavirus but I have also concluded listening to the news that sea attached countries are more in danger. We are blessed with geography that we have hills and mountains. We are also staying at home. So it cannot attack us.

Maicha Manandhar, 81


I am worried that we cannot go out. But we enjoy each other’s company here. We all sit in one place and pass time by conversing. We are also following other safety measures like washing hands with soap, using sanitizer, using the mask, etc.

Surya Singh Baniya, 91


I and my wife are both here. We are getting all the facilities that we were getting before the lockdown like proper regular meals and care. We are very happy here. The only worry is we cannot go for walks. In normal times, we used to visit Chhetrapati, New Road, temples, etc. However, the government is doing a good job. Otherwise the virus would have spread and taken many lives.

Sitaram Bhatta, 67


They have banned visitors but that is not a matter of unease since my children live nearby in Bansbari. If I miss them, I talk to them on the phone. Though they cannot come inside, they can bring essential things that I might need at the gate. So I am comfortable here.

Maya Thapa, 83


They have managed to provide food and other services here even in a difficult situation. I am not worried about myself but for my children as they live abroad. I talk to them often on video call and they comfort me saying to take care of myself and stay happy.

Gayatri Karmacharya, 75


I am not worried about anything as I believe all things happen by the grace of God. I am pleased that I am getting all the facilities here.