Caretakers at Dolly’s Place-A Home for the Aged, with one of the home’s residents.

Homes for the elderly across the country have banned visitors as they attempt to protect their clients, who have been described as being among the most vulnerable group to the COVID-19 virus.

In an interview with Guardian Media Tuesday, T&T Residential Care Association president Caroline Ruiz is now calling on the Government to provide financial support for the homes.

Ruiz said they are bracing for a huge financial fallout if the relatives of their clients cannot afford to pay for their upkeep, given that many businesses are either suspending work or cutting working hours in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ruiz said the association represents 169 homes where over 4,000 elderly people are housed. So far, Ruiz said there have been no suspected cases reported among the 4,000. “About two weeks ago, we suspended visiting. We have informed the relatives of our clients that they can drop off items if they need to but those will only be collected by staff at the gates to ensure that our clients are not put at any risk of contracting this virus,” Ruiz said. Relatives are allowed and encouraged to keep in contact with the clients via phone, Ruiz said.

Until this pandemic passes, Ruiz said homeowners are trying to fill their clients time with storytime and other initiatives to keep them busy until they can see their relatives again. She said staff are also required to shower and change into their uniforms on the homes’ compounds before treating with clients.

“Before we were doing the regular hand sanitising, uniform changes but now we are requiring staff to have a full bath and wear their full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) we cannot afford to take any chances.”

Full sanitation is also required for anyone who leaves the building and returns. These measures are putting an additional strain on homes that were already struggling financially before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ruiz said most homes are not able to purchase items they usually use to take care of clients–such as methylated spirit, rubbing alcohol and gloves because the public cleared shelves across the country when they were panic-buying.

The homes have had to make their own sanitisers in many cases.

She is now asking the state to assist the homeowners in the same way in which assistance was offered to Tobago hoteliers.

“We want a grant like the hoteliers are getting, we want incentives for the frontline workers–the doctors, the nurses, the caretakers- those people who are doing all that they can to maintain a controlled environment for the elderly. We need the government’s full support at this time, for too long they haven’t had anything to say about us or the people we take care of,” Ruiz said.

She said most of the homeowners are also in the at-risk age group and now more than ever, they need the state’s assistance.

“We need help if they (families) don’t pay us, most of the homes are rented property and then we have to pay staff, we are fighting to hold onto to staff but they are human beings just the same and we have to feed the people whether the families pay us or not.

“We are hoping for the best, otherwise, I think we will really have a crisis–most of the homeowners have not gotten a good night’s rest yet since this started and not forgetting that most homeowners are elderly or approaching there,” she said.