Bienvenido welcomes elderly with migration background and narrow purse

Bienvenido means “welcome” and is the name of a recently opened residential care centre for elderly people with a migration background. To be more specific: for elderly with a Cape Verdean and/or Surinamese background in Rotterdam, a city in the Netherlands. Bienvenido is the third location of the care organization MOB. Residential care centers Boomgaard and Boekerode have existed for several years. And the fourth location, whose name also begins with the letter B, is on its way: Beyt Essalam will open its doors in February.

The director of MOB, Ismail Meral likes to play with letters. “I always say, ‘you have to have a residential complex for seniors close to the three A’s,'” he says: Doctor (Arts in Dutch language), Pharmacy (Apotheek in Dutch) and the supermarket (Albert Heijn is a famous supermarket in The Netherlands).’ Those are important amenities for seniors.”

In addition to the letters, the numbers are also important, and that often troubles Ismail. “It is almost impossible to provide housing for older people with a small purse. Older people with a migration background usually have a small purse. We provide opportunities for them. MOB is good at reaching them. We immerse ourselves in the life world of older people, in their culture.”

Ismail sees that, fortunately, there is increasing attention to the needs of older people, also nationally. “Recently, a policy document was published about culturally sensitive care that literally states that the quality of care is related to the extent to which one can deal with diversity. In this regard, it should not matter who someone is. Good and appropriate care is client- and/or patient-centred and tailored to someone’s real needs.” Ismail couldn’t agree more; his organization does it just like this.

Affordable housing

Still, more is needed. As Ismail already mentioned, there is a great need for affordable housing. Therefore he can get angry at skyrocketing housing prices. “Thanks to a private investor, a Rotterdam family bred and born in Rotterdam, we were able to purchase this property. It belongs to the municipality and we won the bidding and were allowed to buy the property.” But this was by no means easy. “I financed the interior myself and am allowed to rent it for the next 20 years.” The building also houses the pharmacy, a physical therapy practice and a general practitioner. “This is interesting for the investor and also pleasant for us. Cooperation between all those organizations is a lot easier when you are housed together. Moreover, older people now come to us easily. They are in the neighbourhood after all.” It is nice that the tram stop stops in front of the door and that the central station is within walking distance.

Overburdened family doctors

In addition to the cost of housing, Ismail is also concerned about the general practitioners. “It is difficult to find a family doctor for our housing complexes. GPs are facing huge workloads. He points to a podcast and article that ran in the newspaper NRC about the rise of commercial care villas. A journalist wrote about the problem doctors face when a care residence opens nearby. If the separation of housing and care is implemented there, it means that people live independently and thus have a right to their own family doctor. If a significant number of elderly people with care needs are added to a neighbourhood by the establishment of a care complex, often owned by a private entrepreneur, the already overburdened practice becomes even more crowded. “GPs can’t take any more patients, their practices are full. I have called around, engaged my network, and begged but it is extremely difficult. We are carrying the burden of government policies focused on independent living and the lack of understanding among GPs.”

MOB’s fifth location is also open to Dutch seniors. “We want to have a mix of residents,” says Ismail Meral.

Dancing older people

Still, that doesn’t stop Ismail from already looking at the next location. “We want to open a fifth residential location in the city of Schiedam. Many elderly people with a migration background also live there. But this location is open to all elderly people, also White Dutch people. We want to have a mix of residents.”

The reason why he makes an effort on behalf of seniors is easy. “Just look at this video that a resident’s daughter posted on Facebook and read the text accompanying it.” The clip shows a 90-year-old Cape Verdean woman dancing. In the accompanying text, a family member expresses her surprise. “She was sick and moving to different housing seemed impossible. Until she came to Bienvenido. She recovered immediately and is smiling and dancing again. We are amazed and happy.” Ismail laughs, “That makes it all worthwhile.”

Article by ENIEC member Yvonne Witter