VULNERABLE elderly people are living in fear that vital support they receive at sheltered housing in Bangor could be slashed in Stormont budget cuts.
Eighty two people from Alpha Housing are awaiting news expected next week of whether their two full-time Supporting People scheme co-ordinators will continue to offer their life-enhancing support.
From daily welfare checks to help with benefit forms, lunch clubs, knit and natter sessions, Lynn Barker and her colleague, Leah Stitt, provide activities which, if withdrawn, would leave many languishing in their rooms alone.
Lynn explained that tenants of Montgomery Manor and Court, on Bangor’s Donaghadee Road are among 19,000 people around Northern Ireland who could lose out.
“There are about 8,000 older people, over 60s, who are accommodated through 350 sheltered schemes and the Department for Communities is cutting the funds to Supporting People across the board by 16%,” she said.
“For people in sheltered housing this will mean serious cuts to scheme coordinators’ hours.”
She explained that scheme coordinators ‘are vital in the safe running’ of the sheltered accommodation scheme.
“We are their first point of contact for maintenance issues, for providing support to their physical, mental and emotional well being and also providing social enhancement through regular activities.”
Since news of the cuts emerged residents and their families have begun to worry about what the future may hold.
“Our tenants are feeling extremely vulnerable and are deeply unhappy about the huge impact this will have on their daily life,” she said.
Lynne and Leah look after 82 people, divided among 36 apartments in the Montgomery Manor block, and three cul de sacs of individual bungalows making up Montgomery Court.
“Every morning we do a welfare call and phone through and say good morning and see how they are and they tell us if anything is wrong or if they need us,” she said.
“There is always something to do,” she said. “Whether it’s devising support plans or doing risk assessments, checking fire alarms, dealing with a flood and all the maintenance issues.
“We’re always organising activities for them too, coffee mornings and knit and natter and activities, like the Coronation tea we recently had for them.”
Wellbeing is also paramount within the role.
“We know their routines, and their usual behaviour and we notice if there’s something wrong, if they are becoming confused or unwell,” she said.
“We are the ones who are able to detect this and then we can notify their families and next of kin and tell them what’s going on,” she said.
“We know them so well that you have a gut instinct if there is something wrong and it’s usually always right.”
She said that if her and Leah’s hours were cut, the residents would likely be left with the system that operates outside their working hours, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm – a telephone system residents can summon if something happens.
The operators then summon help as required, but, as Lynne explained it’s not a failsafe, catch-all service.
“They wear pendants around their necks and if we are not here and they fall for example, or there’s a flood, they can alert the operator. But as happened today, a resident fell and their pendant was on their bedside table,” she revealed.
That means without Lynne or Leah present on the premises, the fallen resident could end up lying on the floor for some considerable time before their absence was detected.
Lynne warns that such budget cuts could result in a greater burden on the public purse.
“This could see a rise in more hospital admissions, longer stays in hospitals, premature admissions to residential and nursing homes taking away supported independent living from vulnerable people in our communities.
“It’s not just Alpha Housing, it’s all housing schemes in Northern Ireland including those with special needs and learning difficulties and our young people.”
“The residents are really scared that if the cuts go ahead and their activities are stopped they are going to be literally stuck in their apartments day and night,” she added.