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Large USSR-style special care homes to be closed down by 2020

At the Tori special care home. Tori is one of six large institutions to care for mentally disabled people in Estonia. All six go back to the Soviet Union's system
At the Tori special care home. Tori is one of six large institutions to care for mentally disabled people in Estonia. All six go back to the Soviet Union's system Source: (Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)

Apart from the ongoing work ability reform, the Estonian welfare system has an additional change coming up, namely the closing of the country’s six large special care homes in 2020. Its residents are to be reassigned to smaller homes with up to 30 people. The change represents a shift from Soviet-style social care to a more Western approach.

As ETV’s “Aktuaalne Kaamera” newscast reported on Sunday evening, the Ministry of Social Affairs is of the position that shifting the system away from large and centralized care homes towards much smaller units will give the service an entirely new meaning.

Estonia has six large special care homes in place, all of which go back to the USSR’s system. Within the next four years, they will all be closed down, and their residents moved to smaller homes around the country.

Deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Rait Kuuse, called the change a challenge, but said that he was optimistic. “This is a challenge in its own right, how to support people with special care needs in such a way that they can live as independently as possible. The time of around-the-clock care like the large care homes offer it is over,” Kuuse said.

Critics: Estonian society isn’t ready

Despite the expected improvement of residents’ living conditions, a lot of their relatives are worried about what might happen to them once they are removed from the socially relatively isolated life in the large care homes.

Estonian society wasn’t ready to welcome mentally disabled people as part of everyday life, as it was handled in Western Europe, they argue, pointing to all the instances when their disabled family members were bullied, or when people were scared of them because of their being very different.

It wasn’t clear what they would be doing after the special care homes were closed down, where currently they have parks, and workshops to keep them busy.

There are also worries that the big change might affect the residents negatively, as it couldn’t be assumed that their understanding of the world and what went on in it was the same as that of the majority of Estonians.

State: Aim is to integrate mentally disabled people in society

State-owned company AS Hoolekandeteenused is in charge of the current care homes, and will also be responsible for arranging the change. Its representatives have been in talks with existing homes as well as the relatives of residents.

The aim was to place as many people as possible close to where their families lived, Liina Lanno, who is in charge of the company’s services devision, told ETV. This would mean considerable change. For instance, of the roughly 350 residents of the Sõmera care home in Saaremaa, only 75 would remain on the island, as most others were from places on the Estonian mainland.

The objective of providing a more independent and dignified environment for people with mental disabilities would be achieved by placing them in smaller, more comfortable, and more personal surroundings, Lanno said. The long-term aim was to make them fully fledged members of Estonian society.

The planned reform is expected to cost €56m. As Kuuse admits, there were factors that can’t be foreseen, and there will be plenty of changes, but continuing the way things are done now is not an option.

“The way we see it, not doing this isn’t an option. Today’s buildings, where they are, and how the services are accessible, not just for the people who live there now, but also for those who will come in the future, is inadequate,” Kuuse said.

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn

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