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SHADOWS OF TIME

Even after a hundred years, the beautiful old building, set back a little from Burwood Road , still retained its fascination. From its original function as a family home it had been converted to ‘Westmore’, a nursing home bought by the Velvas in 1970. Unable to secure sufficient land to provide necessary supplementary services, the owners were forced to close in the year 2000.

Westmore stands as a reminder of the many residents, relatives and staff who spent part of their life behind its solid wood door and pesky little front gate. Carers Claire, Stella, Meg, Diana, Claudia, Jane and Belle were only a handful of those who opened their hearts to forty-nine elderly residents in search of respite from a world they could no longer understand. All were unique. Life experiences had moulded most into the people they had become; others were victims of disease.

Follow the struggles of these people as they endeavour to create an alternative life for themselves. Sympathise with them when their often bizarre behaviour requires more patience than is readily available. Understand their feelings of guilt for having indulged in even the slightest of infractions. Wonder at the relationships etched by necessity that prove to be mutually beneficial.  

In Store Price: $AU21.95 
Online Price:   $AU20.95

ISBN: 1-9211-1821-0
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 163
Genre:  Fiction

 

 


Author: Pam Hunter 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2006
Language: English

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About the Author  

Pam Hunter was born in Tweed Heads, New South Wales in 1934. Raised in Queensland she joined the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corp when she turned eighteen, resigning to commence her general nurse training in Townsville in 1954.

She spent the next fifty years travelling to many countries of the world as a respite from a life committed to the pursuit of excellence for herself and the ever-changing profession of nursing.

Midwifery was her main love but she was also wooed by academia, pursuing teaching and eventually obtaining a Masters degree. A short time working in psychiatry and research was followed by a twenty-year affiliation with diversional therapy and aged care.

Now living in Brisbane , where she retired in the year 2000, Pam has reinvented herself as an artist and a writer.

This is her first novel.

Chapter 1

The white Honda Civic wended its way down the crowded thoroughfare to a destination just past the main shopping centre. The driver, Claire Meredith, unsure of her surroundings, had sketched the streets needed to find her way.

So far the trip had gone to plan, but she had several reasons for feeling anxious as she checked her watch and scanned the directory to ensure that she was in the right street. To lose her way now would mean being late for her nine o’clock appointment with Ted Velva, the current proprietor of Westmore Nursing Home. She couldn’t afford that. She needed the job.

The position of Director of Nursing, her first since selling the business she had owned with her partner Lila Winsome, was not the career move Claire had wished for. They had run Group Homes for the Aged, and Claire’s ambition had been to develop the homes so they could continue to work for themselves. But Lila’s need for money made it necessary to sell the business. The hardest thing for Claire was she couldn’t afford to buy her out. She had to forgo her dream of self-employment and go to look for a job.

Dressed in a straight skirt, business blouse and court shoes, the petite fifty-five-year-old, whose appearance belied her age, had been a hospital matron for the past ten years and knew that she would have no difficulty doing the job. The major obstacle was whether Ted could work with her or not, a factor over which neither of them had control. It was not Claire’s nature to consider whether she could work with him, but in the long term that was to become a more crucial question.

Stopping at one of the many sets of lights on Burwood Road , Claire checked the directory and reassured herself she was in the right place. She had twenty minutes to get out of the busy shopping area and find the address. Her pulse raced as she considered everything that could go wrong in so short a time. It was peak hour and everyone was in a hurry. What if she had an accident?

“Come on lights, change,” she muttered, her nerves getting the better of her.

The lights did her bidding. With another quick glimpse at her plotted course and a sigh of relief, Claire set off again, hoping that she could drive a little faster from here on. But it was not to be. Trying to control her anxiety she drove on, her destination only a short distance away. She turned her attention to the next issue, parking. Burwood Road was a no parking area, so she had pre-chosen a side street that seemed to be the nearest to the address she’d been given. There it was, with ten minutes to spare. Turning into the tree-lined street she sat back a little in her seat, easing the tension she had felt since leaving home an hour before.

After parking her car, Claire walked back up to Burwood Road to look at the entrance to the building where she hoped to work. She was confronted by a drab, dilapidated old building similar to many nursing homes in and around Sydney . She anticipated that the inside would be a reflection of the outside and asked herself how much could she do to improve the situation for the residents. She had learned from experience that there were many things she could do, but the degree to which she could instigate change would depend on the integrity of the owner. He held the purse strings.

Unfortunately, at the time, Claire was unable to visualise the beautiful building that once stood there. Caught up in her professional ambitions she missed the heart of the matter. It was only in hindsight that she learned to appreciate the history that was Westmore and to marvel at the social and political changes that had affected its development.

A hundred years later it still stood as a reminder of the past. Set back off the road, the once-beautiful old mansion could almost go unnoticed except for a large sign positioned above the huge front doors identifying it as ‘Westmore Nursing Home’.

Originally built as a home for an accountant and his family, it had high ornate ceilings, large rooms and a cottage-like front entrance. The front door opened into a hallway that ran through the centre of the house and emerged into a secluded and cosy back yard. Conversion to a nursing home had been kind to the integrity of the original design, with most extra facilities added to the back of the building.

There were no shade trees and the front veranda was fully exposed to the morning sun. Ideal for Sydney winters, it was unbearable during the really hot months of January and February. The best place to be at those times was at the rear of the building in the new facilities, where the temperature was at least ten degrees cooler.

Ted’s parents had bought the nursing home in 1970. They gave it to their son two years later but retained a lifelong interest in its day-to-day management. They knew that it was not an easy way to make a living and fully supported Ted in his demanding role. Despite regular, guaranteed government funding, expenses - mostly staff salaries - were high. Learning to cope with the continual drain on resources was an ongoing battle. It was much more than simply setting up house for a group of elderly people. Relatives, government agencies and staff all had varying degrees of interest, and a say, in how the facility was managed. Governments were not about to hand out more than necessary. Many owners took the opportunity to exploit for personal gain the many loopholes in regulations. They bought personal groceries, household equipment and furnishings on the nursing home budget. The Velvas were basically honest people, but when it came to keeping afloat they were as guilty as everyone else of taking advantage of loopholes.

With no medical or nursing skills between them, their basic problem was to provide nursing care for the residents. They employed a few registered nurses to take on this responsibility. Whereas in other facilities the matron usually lived on the premises, at Westmore she lived in the house next door. She was the housemother, on call at all times. Few nurses questioned the standard of care provided, believing cleanliness and nourishment were all that was necessary. Most of the elderly were called ‘babies’ and the staff generally accepted that little could be done for them. They had been admitted to the nursing home to die.

During those early days, the situation in public and private hospitals was not conducive to a high standard of care, and caring for the aged was not a popular occupation for nurses. Few registered nurses were employed and they were usually married women with children. They saw nursing as a way to work outside the rigours of a general hospital environment, giving them more time and energy to care for their families.

Assistants-in-Nursing (AINs) made up the majority of staff. They were women without any nursing qualifications, let alone in aged care. They could apply for a position at any nursing home and legally be accepted to care for the chronically ill.

In all developing countries, as life expectancy and women’s participation in the work force increased, there were no longer stay-at-home mothers to care for aged and disabled relatives. There was pressure on governments to provide accommodation with around-the-clock nursing care. Nursing homes owned by charities or private enterprise quickly sprang up. Controlled by the minimum of government regulations, each successive political leader saw little, if any, kudos in financing aged care. It was considered the responsibility of the family, usually a spinster daughter, to care for an ailing relative. In many countries that remains the case. In Australia , it was the late 1960s and early ’70s before efforts were made to improve knowledge about the aging process. However, it was to be another twenty-five years before radical changes to the system heralded a much better deal for those suffering chronic disease and disabilities.

Accommodation was upgraded, but it was recognised that boredom, loneliness and feelings of not being wanted were among the many remaining problems. Fifty years on they remain so, although post basic education for registered nurses and the introduction of diversional therapists in the early 1980s offered some relief.

It took more than a century to achieve minimum progress in the institutional care of the aged, but early nursing homes satisfied the needs of a variety of people. Some members of the public were loath to accept public hospital treatment because of its poor reputation, preferring to pay for private care. But there were others who saw this alternative as predominantly a moneymaking concern, lining the pockets of the doctors and nurses who had a vested interest in them, while not offering any improvement in the standard of care.

It was against this background that Westmore and other nursing homes were developed. At Westmore, two-level extensions accommodating twenty people were added, bringing the bed capacity to forty-nine. Permission for such extensions during those early days was easy, but today, with strict controls on all beds and a government policy set at zero expansion, it’s a different story.

Curiously, though nursing homes were always basically a social service, they were run as businesses. Consequently, many people who view this as exploiting the aged for profit believe that all aged-care facilities should be fully funded by the Government, with no access by private enterprise.

Since the 1970s, much has been achieved in aged care. It is therefore unfair to judge past carers - doctors and matrons - on the basis of what we know today. Most of them did the best they could. But they left a burdensome legacy in that most people have a morbid fear of ending their life in a nursing home. Not all proprietors were honest nor did they have an interest in the welfare of patients. They were there to make money; most matrons were chosen because they understood that. It is probably correct to say that many of the problems existing in nursing homes today have their roots in past events.

Proprietors have always maintained that government funding is insufficient to keep their nursing home functioning according to expectations. It was well known throughout the industry that many proprietors maintained two sets of books, one for government inspection, the other telling the true story. Consequently, trying to obtain money from them for the benefit of patients has been like trying to get blood out of a stone.

Mostly unaware of Westmore’s colourful past, residents and staff created a history of their own. Claire became part of that when she was appointed Director-of-Nursing in January 1989 after a hair-raising interview with Ted Velva. His lack of management and people skills were immediately obvious to Claire, who came away from the hour-long meeting feeling incompetent. Furthermore, it took him forty-eight hours to offer her the position. During this waiting time Claire thought seriously about not taking the position if it were offered. How could she work with such a disturbed man? Her gut instinct kept telling her to wait for the next job opportunity, but she was desperate to get back to work. Her lifetime fear of not having enough money to live on was gnawing at her despite having made considerable profit on the sale of her business.

“There’s no one to look after me. I’ve got to do it myself,” was a common thread to Claire’s thinking. No one could deny that this was true. Her family was barely able to take care of themselves and Claire’s insecurity was insatiable. There was never enough of anything - money, love. For this reason she accepted the position.

 

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