Rest homes have introduced “cultural evenings” to combat racism among residents as the number of immigrants working as carers for the elderly grows.
Figures show more than 5000 permits were granted to overseas aged-care workers over the past three years, in particular to people from the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
At one Auckland rest home alone, people of 28 different ethnicities work on site, while residents tend to be from mainly European backgrounds.
The increasingly diverse ethnic makeup of carers has led to some cultural “misunderstandings”, prompting some facilities to hold themed events to educate the elderly about other cultures.
“We haven’t had residents saying, ‘I don’t want to be looked after by those people’, or things like that,” said New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor. “But the average age of those going into residential care is 84, and they’re not used to having caregivers and workers who aren’t European.”
Older people were often less tolerant of other races because of a lack of interaction with ethnic groups, Massey University race relations specialist Paul Spoonley said. “Rest homes are a place where carers have intimate contact with an older generation of New Zealanders, people who have been brought up in a homogenous society,” he said.
“Their experience has been of a New Zealand that is quite different to today.”
Spoonley supported an educational approach, saying misunderstandings could become an issue of racism if they were not addressed. “There will be some racist incidents, I don’t doubt that, but if it’s addressed early on it won’t be a problem in future. But the worst thing you can do is pretend there’s not a culture difference.”
Grey Power retirement village spokesman Bill Atkinson said education was a two-way street. “They shouldn’t just come and go straight into work, they should spend some time getting used to our culture too,” he said. “It’s about helping residents to accept it, and for people to assimilate.”
Atkinson said many elderly people resented having to go into a rest home, and being surrounded by carers from a different culture could be overwhelming.
As the elderly population continued to grow, more and more foreign workers were expected to fill a gap in the workforce.
Asia New Zealand chairman Philip Burdon said the country was fortunate to have Asian carers, especially Filipinos, wanting to immigrate here: “They have a unique and well-established reputation for quality care internationally.”