The Chief Executive Officer of Greymate Care, Chika Madubuko, speaks to MOBOLA SADIQ about why some Nigerians don’t like entrusting vulnerable family members into the hands of care providers, the sad realities of underage home helps and other issues
Why did you start your company?
Before the company was established, the care delivery gap was glaring. At a time, my family had to go through the stress of finding a caregiver. The challenges were numerous, including finding someone to trust who would not yank our grandmother off the bed in our absence, someone who understood her kind of person and her medical condition. The qualities we desired were not far-fetched, yet we went around in circles with ‘agents’, despite that we could not find what we were looking for. Some nurses offered to help but that was only when they were in-between jobs and would always leave once they found a job, taking us right back to square one. I identified this horrible problem and as an entrepreneur, I decided to do something about it.
What are some of the peculiar challenges you face in this line of business?
The major challenge within the home health industry is trust. Most families are weary of leaving their loved ones in the hands of total strangers and they really are not to be blamed, given all the horrific stories we hear daily.
What is your work history?
I am a business professional, tech enthusiast, job creation advocate and social reformer. I have a Master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. I have business experience spanning across three continents and blue-chip multinational companies including Amazon and Diageo.
A lot of people think that getting professional help is more expensive than making use of conventional home helps. What is your take on that?
The price of care we offer is affordable, when compared to the value the client would get in return. One of the major differentiating factors is that with a trained professional, one can be rest assured that they can follow one’s loved ones to honour hospital appointments and can understand what the doctor is saying, as they would be the ones in charge of medication reminders. With the everyday home help, one does not enjoy such privileges, and would have to call in late or even be absent at work whenever there is a hospital appointment. That is just one of the numerous advantages a trained professional has over an untrained one.
Why do you render your services only to people who are above 13 years old?
We really wanted to remain outside childcare and that is why we care for people over the age of 13. However, we still get calls from people who have heard about us and prefer we care for their kids. In such cases, we refer them to some trusted partners who are into child care.
It takes a level of trust for people to entrust vulnerable family members into the hands of care providers. What are some of the things you have had to deal with to convince people that their loved ones are in safe hands?
One of the things we do is to show clients the process of hiring (background checks) and training of our staff, as well as the monitoring and evaluation methods we have put in place to ensure their loved ones are in safe hands. Sometimes, the management team shows up to deliver the care themselves to build the trust required to kick-start a relationship.
What are some of the checks put in place to ensure that care minders don’t hurt clients?
We do a lot of study-backed methods. Planning and systematic approaches are carried out to ensure service users are safe with their caregivers. Top of the list is the hiring process. We prioritise soft skills over qualification and technical skills, as we know that one can train a kind person to carry out diabetic foot care, for example, but no form of training can make an impatient person become patient. Our background check process is equally very stringent and lots of phoney people are sifted at that stage. To become one of our caregivers, one has to be guaranteed by two non-family members in high positions of paid employment. We have an address verification process and our caregivers are registered with the police. During training, we include real-life tests which the trainees do not even recognise, but it helps us ‘thin out the funnel’ until we end up with the caregivers who possess the traits we are looking for. Another secret is the matching process, where the service user actually has a right to build their preferred caregiver profile and little things like matching a chatty service user with a chatty caregiver goes a long way. While the service is ongoing, we have other processes in place, especially when it comes to follow-up and monitoring.
How do you feel when you read stories of caregivers maltreating or neglecting their ‘wards’?
I find them very depressing to say the least. Anyone caught engaged in such activities should be punished. I always wonder what went wrong in those people’s lives for them to comfortably carry out such dastardly acts without remorse.
How can things like that be checked, especially for people who have busy careers?
The company from which the assistants were hired should be responsible for monitoring. Unannounced checks, logbook/daily reporting tools and simple rotations are some of the systematic methods to check these ills.
In Nigeria, there aren’t that many nursing homes for elderly citizens. What do you think is responsible for that?
The simple reason is low patronage due to culture. We are not culturally inclined to move our loved ones into a home, and no entrepreneur would set up a standard house and inject a lot of funds into its maintenance, knowing that people would not just move their loved ones to the place. Many people would not even want to patronise nursing homes at this time because of the blood-curdling stories we hear. For us, we allow people to remain in their own homes, surrounded by people and things they are familiar with. We have found that this contributes positively towards their recovery.
Why do you think that people are still skeptical about nursing homes or patronising care services?
I think the main reason people are sceptical about nursing homes or patronising care services is because the average human has a criminal streak in them and no one wants their family member to become a victim of any form of abuse. When one’s loved one is in a nursing home and the place has little or no supervision, the tendency of abuse is pretty high. The trick to overcoming that is to find a home that is monitored with cameras. The staff should also be well trained and policies and penalties should be put in place to curb misdemeanours.
Do you think the government is doing enough for elderly citizens?
There are pension schemes and quasi-policies in place. However, we still hear stories of people queuing in the rain to collect a measly pension cheque and how retirees of iconic status such as footballers and authors are left to rot as they grow older. Clearly, enough energy and funds are not being disbursed in these areas.
How can the government improve in these areas?
The primary step towards improvement would be to create social security policies that protect the average Nigerian, disburse enough funding to actually materialise these policies and build a monitoring and evaluation team that would see to its maintenance.
Many NGOs and kind-hearted Nigerians are more inclined to the needs of orphans and widows, than elderly and vulnerable citizens. What can be done to shift people’s focus to their plight?
Some people believe that the elderly do not require assistance since they have children who would take care of them because, in this part of the world, children are parents’ retirement plans. Maybe that explains why they are not at the top of the list when it comes to charity. One of the solutions is that more awareness has to be created, so that people who are feeling charitable can know services like ours exist.
Do you assign care minders based on the gender of your clients?
As a matter of fact, our service users’ preference is highly considered while deploying caregivers. On the booking platform, they build a caregiver’s profile based on gender, language, location, skill set and other criteria. The aim is to match the service user with a preferred caregiver as this ensures a seamless start to the relationship since it has been found that most individuals are more comfortable when a particular gender cares for them.
What are your thoughts about employing underage home helps?
This is legally wrong and people who are found doing this should be brought to book. Those kids wake up as early as 4am and go to bed as late as 11 pm. They attend different schools from those of the children of their boss, dress differently and their self-confidence is equally squashed. A lot of people hide under the guise of helping these minors and claim they send them to school and give them better lives in exchange for their services. This is untrue because if they were truly philanthropists, they would help these kids and hire a legal home help since the kid’s role is not just servitude. However, you find they do not want to hire a grown-up and they come up with excuses such as being worried that a philandering husband would get a female home help pregnant.
What’s your take about social security schemes in Nigeria?
At this time, the social security schemes we have are practically non-existent. This is the only country I know of where people work so hard for decades, yet still queue for pensions. Policies bordering on social security schemes including healthcare, recreation and partial replacement income should be implemented and seen to the finish line by a monitoring and evaluation team.
Caring for elderly and vulnerable persons could be emotionally and physically draining for minders. How should they handle such situations?
The secret is in taking breaks. I take vacations seriously and always advise our staff members to indicate whenever they need breaks. We ensure we send in replacements and grant all forms of leave because we understand the value of vacations and that people return from these breaks willing to deliver the best form of care.
What’s your advice to caregivers dealing with difficult clients?
I always advise them to put themselves in their service user’s shoes and don their cloak of empathy. You have to understand that some people are still struggling with the idea of dependence for tasks as little as putting on clothes. So, their attitude has nothing to do with the caregiver nor do they want to be rude. It is just a phase they are dealing with.
What are the required skills a caregiver should possess?
They include empathy, patience, detail-oriented approach, can-do attitude, ready to learn and neatness. This is even more important than the technical skills which can be learnt in a classroom.
Some men think that taking care of elderly family members should be the responsibility of women. What do you have to say to such people?
This might be applicable in previous centuries, but in today’s world, the role of care is not gender-specific and should be assigned to whoever has more time, empathy, willingness and is available to carry out the duties involved. In the event that both parties do not have the time, it is wrong to expect the woman to quit her job to care for the family member. Rather, a trained personnel should be hired for that.
What are your hobbies?
I am an avid reader, so you would always find me with a book or doing some form of learning.
How do you unwind?
I travel to unwind. I truly believe that ‘out of sight is out of mind’. To relax, I take some time off, enjoy new scenery in a different location.
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