June 27, 2014; Third Sector

A current business trend emphasizes the benefits of thinking quickly in times of decision, and in an era when budgets are often shrinking rather than expanding, it is not surprising that there is a strong market for these theories. In a recent post about the UK’s Pilgrims Hospice, the former president of the Association of Directors of Social Services and UK Director of Help the Aged, Wally Harbert, provides some context for the changes over the past fifty years with housing trends for elderly people and the impact that they have had.

As Harbert writes, “Judgments that involve a trade off between the certainty of what now exists and doubts about the validity of what might take its place” are complex both “intellectually and emotionally”—and particularly so for individuals and families dealing with end-of-life issues.

In Harbert’s words, the recent events at Pilgrims Hospice amount to a story that “is simply told.” Essentially, the organization’s former executive director, Steve Auty, “persuaded his trustees that their premises in Canterbury were no longer fit for purpose and should be closed with the savings used to develop more appropriate services, mainly in the homes of patients.” According to Harbert, “public uproar” soon followed and then led to the organization’s board reversing its decision about the facility and Auty and the organization’s board chair both resigning. Evidence of the “uproar” Harbert describes can be found on the Save Pilgrims Hospice Canterbury Facebook page, which as of July 14 had nearly 14,000 “likes,” along with a post explaining that that a final decision from the board was still forthcoming and that, in the meantime, the group was raising funds.

The UK’s aging population has brought heightened concern to issues related to pensions and end-of-life care and Pilgrims’ website notes that the organization will continue to seek support from the advocacy organization Help the Hospices as it moves forward with planning.

Drawing on his own professional experience working with the UK’s elderly population, Harbert explains that in the ’60s and ’70s, the decision to shift from dormitory-style elderly housing to more individualized residential living environments resulted in “fierce battles.” Referring to the people who were most affected by the move, Harbert recalls, “Existing residents suffered an enormous upheaval at the end of their lives for changes which were of no benefit to them.” He adds, “Improvement comes at a price which is not always paid for by the beneficiary.”

Summarizing his view of the events at Pilgrims and offering a subtle note of caution for current executive directors and board leaders who are accountable to the public, Harbert suggests, “It appears that decisions were made before all stakeholders understood the issues.” In cases such as this, a slow decision might have been the preferable option.—Anne Eigeman