Hitting home

Arthur Pillay, Highlands Heights

I have applied to a residential facility, Abbeyfield in January this year on reaching the application age of 60 after many attempts throughout the years.

I was called for a pre-interview, and viewing of the facility at the end of January.

I was taken on a tour, asked to select a room, and was asked if I was successful, would I be able to move in by February 1. I was also assured that there was no waiting list, and the facility was fairly new to accommodate 12 residents of different cultures, religion and race, of which I had no problem.

The only problem I really had was, commuting to and from Pelican Park, to Mitchell’s Plain as I had financial constraints. In the first interview I made it clear that I would have liked to reside within Mitchell’s Plain, as all my activities are here.

Obstacles getting in to both Yvonne Parfitt and Montclair facilities were that there was a five-year waiting list and one of the criterions were that you could not be blacklisted, which I am.

Rushing back to where I am currently residing, I excitedly boxed all my belongings and got rid of excess clothing and relocated all my large furniture to my children (as the facility provided all of these).

February 1 came and went, and I had to follow up with another call. In mid-February I was called for the first official interview, with the boss (director) Rudolph Kay and a social worker.

Unfortunately, the boss could not make it due to illness, and I was interviewed by the first interviewer, with the social worker. Again I was reassured, and asked, if I was successful, would I be able to move in on March 1.

This indicated to me that there was no waiting list nor a demand for residency.

Here again I had to give my current lessee 30 days “notice of intention to vacate”.

On Thursday March 3, I again followed up, and I was called in for an in-depth interview with the boss, who spoke to me, in a rather irritated voice, telling me that he had been trying to get hold of me the previous day.

He agreed to see me the same afternoon and could only give me 15 minutes for the interview, which was now in Claremont. He couldn’t give me directions, nor a landmark as to how to get there.

The interview itself, was very intense and I was asked if I would fit in with the different types of people there.

I explained that I had started my own senior citizens’ club which caters for all ages and race groups. I’m also a member of the Older Person’s Forum (OPF), a Commissioner of Oaths and I’m part of a support group for families of substance abusers. Now if that is not reference enough that I can mix with a diverse group of people, then I don’t know.

Towards the end of the rigorous line of questioning, I was told that he (the boss) had a problem with certain parts of the interview, namely my strong personality. He also had a problem with me being part of the OPF, if I am successful with accom-modation, due to the geographical location of Pelican Park (which falls under Wynberg forum). I told him that I intended moving, not the club, which remains in Mitchell’s Plain, making me eligible to continue with both the club and the forum.

Abbeyfield has many other homes in the province. One has to wonder, was this a personal attack or does this type of behaviour exist within the realms of Abbeyfield.

If so, one can only imagine what type of residents are occupying these homes. Residents, waiting to die, no activity or dialogue of any kind, was allowed (as per Mr Kay).

My opinion is Abbeyfield is not at fault, but rather the people like Mr Kay. For doing so much good for your fellow senior citizens, you are penalised, marginalised and discriminated against.

Mr Kay ended the interview by telling me he would get back to me in that week. On March 18 I again had to phone- I already knew the answer. His assistant had to give me the answer, followed by an email, with absolutely no reason for the refusal. If a person is refused admission to a residential facility, the manager of that residential facility must, on the request of that person, give reasons in writing for such refusal to the person.

* Alfreda Mouton, development officer, Abbeyfield South Africa, responds:

Abbeyfield does not conduct pre-interviews only interviews.

As part of our process, we conduct panel interviews consisting of our resident development worker and an outside social worker to ensure an unbiased process.

While it is true that there is no waiting list for this specific home because construction on the new building had just been completed, just because there is no waiting list does not mean an applicant will be granted automatic admission.

We need to assess every application individually with the aim to ensure that an applicant is suitable to a communal environment and that they are able to live independently.

Mr Pillay was never offered a room. Abbeyfield prefers not to admit residents who are blacklisted but we are willing to make exceptions in certain cases.

No one told or implied in any way that Mr Pillay was granted residency with Abbeyfield, he packed his belongings of his own accord.

In fact, we made it clear to him, and the other applicants, that having been granted an interview in no way assures them of a placement.

We are unsure of why Mr Pillay packed his belongings despite being told in no uncertain terms that we will assess his application and get back to him.

There were only two interviews, first with the panel and the second with the director and development worker. Our panel clearly stated to him that he would be asked to move in only if his application were successful. Knowing this, why did he pack and just assume he would be successful?

Referring to the notice required of intention to vacate, we never told or inferred him to do anything of the sort.

Abbeyfield interviews are conducted based on pre-set questionnaires which is also the method that was used for this interview. During the first interview the panel found that Mr Pillay would most likely not be suitable for a communal living environment. The second interview was conducted on recommend-ation of the panel that conducted the first interview.

Applications may be declined on a first interview but the panel felt that, in the interest of fairness, they would recommend a second interview to confirm the recommendation of non-suitability arrived at in the first interview.

Mr Pillay’s claim that anyone of our staff is rude or were irritated with him is devoid of any truth. The other successful, and unsuccessful applicants, will attest to this.

Referring to the facility houses where there are different people, we have standard questionnaires, this question is asked to all applicants. Mr Pillay appeared irritated with the question.

Our homes are integrated, non-religious and apolitical.

Mr Pillay was informed that all personality types are not compatible with living in a communal environment.

Mr Pillay’s arrogant tone and manner of answering our questions gave doubt whether he would be able to be respectful to other residents in the home.

Our homes have set rules, aimed at ensuring that everyone treats each other with respect and dignity. That means respecting each other’s religion and culture.

Referring to the OPF allegations, current Abbeyfield residents belong to various social groups, clubs, churches and engage in various activities that range from community participation to religious involvement. In the history of Abbeyfield no resident has ever been asked to resign from any activity they are involved in. In fact, they are encouraged to participate in as many activities as possible. Our whole model is built on older persons who remain active in their communities as long as possible. This is why we establish homes in normal residential areas.

Declining an application is not a personal attack on Mr Pillay. It was the finding of both the panel that interviewed Mr Pillay and of the second interview panel that Mr Pillay would not be adaptable to living in a communal environ-ment. We have a responsibility to all our residents to ensure that they live in an environment conducive to growing old with dignity.

All Abbeyfield residents are allowed to hold any views and engage in any debate they wish to, as long as they respect one another. Mr Pillay is misrepresenting what was communicated with him in the interview. Mr Pillay mentioned quite a few times that he holds several positions. While we applaud this, he phrased it in such a way as to give the impression he was trying to unduly leverage his way to being selected above other applicants. Our procedures try to level the playing field for all applicants. We cannot favour individuals who try to leverage their selection above others by “name-dropping” or using their position within whichever organisation, political party or whichever means as a way of being unfairly advantaged.

Mr Pillay was not discriminated against in any way, shape or form.

His application was declined due to incompatibility with a communal environment, we are standing by this decision. We believe it is in the best interest of the other, very happy and content, residents of our new Pelican Park home.

Given the untruthful nature of Mr Pillay’s statements and his seeming use of his position in the OPF as a means to try and secure a place in our home only serves to confirm our finding that he is not a suitable candidate for Abbeyfield living.