By Dominique Heffes-Doon
The Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home, a Home managed and run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) is making news.
A recently issued press release by the Society of St Vincent de Paul states, “[we would] like to address a series of falsehoods contained in a recent social media post regarding the Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home”. The same release goes on to state that the “newly elected President of the Society, Nigel Phillip reassured the public of Trinidad and Tobago that, ‘those in our care are treated with love, dignity, and respect.’”
However, the Catholic News team was deeply concerned and decided to do our own investigation. On Wednesday, October 19 and Thursday 20, a member of our team was granted access into the facility to assess the situation for ourselves.
We surveyed the home, spoke with both staff and residents, and saw for ourselves the reality of what is happening from within Finbar Ryan’s walls.
The home is an imposing four-storey building located to the rear of the St Finbar’s parish in Westmoorings. To enter, visitors follow a ramp leading from the carpark to the second floor, where one enters a large corridor flanked on both sides with resident bedrooms and bathrooms.
Residents appear to occupy floors two and three, and there is an elevator which allows access to each of the floors including the roof. Nevertheless, there are maintenance issues with the elevator, and I was advised not to use it.
The layout of the two floors in which the residents are housed seem to take the same format – bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living area, communal dining room and chapel.
Each bedroom is big enough to comfortably fit four single beds and cupboards, as well as allow a wheelchair to navigate. Nevertheless, the metaphorical and literal cracks are visible.
There is no apparent smell, which staff says is due to the use of vinegar to mop floors, and the space appears clean and orderly. However, there is evident water damage indicated by swelling concrete and rusting steel. Staff tell me that they want to start an ‘Adopt A Room’ campaign so they can begin to reinvigorate the Home.
Despite the limited mobility of many of the patients, I witnessed residents moving freely, albeit some via wheelchairs, from their bedrooms to the communal living spaces.
On the second visit to the home, I was greeted by two of the ladies, Jennifer and Patsy, dancing in the hallway to Vybz Kartel’s ‘Nah Let Go’ and happily engaging with staff. A beautiful moment of authentic fun and happiness, despite the evident challenges faced by the Home.
As you walk a few yards further to the communal area, you’re greeted with more water damage in the form of leaking ceilings, a continual issue which impacts the perimeter of the entire building.
Let’s talk realities. The Covid-19 pandemic was unkind to many, but it was a particularly gruelling time for the elderly. Faced with lockdown and a reduction of revenue, the Home experienced difficulties, which resulted in as much as 70 per cent of the staff leaving due to the inability to pay wages regularly.
Speaking with staff, residents, and volunteers from ‘Friends of Finbar Ryan’ (formerly known as the ‘Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home Association Committee’) we learned that the skeleton team carried on and ensured residents were fed and cared for daily.
What strikes you when speaking with all involved in the Home is that the Finbar Ryan community acknowledges the situation is far from ideal, but they are trying to serve as best as they can with limited resources.
According to the former Secretary of the ‘Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home Association Committee’, who has volunteered with the organisation since its inception, “residents were given three meals daily. When staff and cooks were unable to come out, we [now ‘Friends of Finbar Ryan’] ordered catered lunches.”
She went on to tell me that the burglar proofing was also put in because “young people [from the surrounding communities] would jump the gate and use the ramp to have sex and smoke weed.”
We also spoke to the staff on “bush tea”. This recipe was prescribed to the entire Home by a health professional during the pandemic to supplement the frail immunity of their ageing population. Staff assures me that a concoction of vervine, fever grass, mint and bay leaf was given in addition to “three square meals” to ensure that their residents, who would have been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic, had an added immune boost.
The Finbar Ryan Geriatric Home needs assistance as they continue to serve some of the most vulnerable in our midst. They receive support from the surrounding community, but no Government subvention. Staff and volunteers have said continually that maintenance of the building has been a serious challenge, which has resulted in leakages and structural issues that are in dire need of attention.
Staff and volunteers are keen to appeal to the public. “We need help!” is the cry from the Friends of Finbar Ryan volunteers. “We need Corporate T&T to come in here, take a look at what we’re working with and help us!”.
Staff have also assured the Catholic News that the situation is turning around as the country re-emerges from the pandemic and new caregivers are coming on stream to assist. However, help is desperately needed to fix the building, roof, and to bring the Home’s operations to a more stable place.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul and the Finbar Ryan Home are appealing to the public of Trinidad and Tobago. To quote their recent release, “the Society welcomes any financial or other support that concerned citizens wish to provide, to assist the Home in providing care for the elderly in our community. To give assistance please call St Vincent de Paul offices on 625-3562 to share your time, treasure, and talents.”