Russia: critical importance of CSOs in helping the elderly

“The role of CSOs is critically important”: experts on helping the elderly

2 April 2021

CSOs have discussed trends and issues in elderly care, including establishing a system of long-term care, searching for partners, and communicating with social welfare centres.

System of Long-term Care and CSOs

One of the main developments for CSOs helping the elderly is the introduction of a system of long-term care (SLC). The pilot project began in 2018 and by 2022 the system will be set up in every region of Russia, where there are more than 33,000,000 over 65s (data from 2020).

The system of long-term care is built on three principles: swiftly identifying those in need; determining how much support is required; and rendering assistance in a place that is suitable to the individual.

The system is designed to be run through interagency cooperation with a partnership of social, medical, and rehabilitation centres, as well as CSOs.

“Identifying those in need relies on CSOs most of all. How can we find someone who doesn’t know how to make contact? CSOs are able to proactively identify individuals: we find someone, pass over their information, and ensure that their details are noted correctly”, says Elizaveta Oleskina, director of the Starost v radost (Enjoying Old Age) foundation.

The SLC is aimed at vulnerable people of all ages, as well as those who care for them, such as relatives, acquaintances, and neighbours. More info: We don’t open the door to strangers: why it’s not so easy to implement a system of long-term care

Services made available to those in need will include home visits, day centres, assisted living, special medical care, support in finding employment and receiving an education, as well as legal aid. Caregivers will be given access to care training, as well as legal aid and psychological support.

Oleskina continues, “In my view, the role of CSOs is critically important at every stage of the process. We can’t help someone if they’re not identified in the first place, while many social workers aren’t trained for this. To go from delivering groceries to taking care of someone isn’t easy. The pilot regions are already asking: “Who will come? CSOs, where are you?

Meanwhile, the SLC still faces many questions. It remains to be seen who will be responsible for coordinating operations. There is still no overall federal solution: regions operate the system in their own ways. For example, in Moscow people with relatives are ineligible to receive help.

Cooperation with CSOs

In 2020 the Zabota ryadom (Help is at Hand) coalition was established, which brings together around 300 CSOs helping the elderly and people with disabilities across Russia.

Help is at Hand identifies elderly people who are lonely and “invisible”, and who generally are not on the radar of social care services and do not have any relatives.

CSOs exchange information within the coalition, coordinate their work, and take collective decisions. There are resource centres in 23 cities where CSOs can also share their experiences. This helps to establish a uniform care system across different regions.

“Our coalition is like a big network where you can ask questions and get answers. It’s not based on one practice from one organisation, but on a range of practices from a large number of organisations which are then picked up and replicated”, explains Tatyana Akimova, acting director of the charity Khoroshiye istorii (Good Stories).

The coalition plans to create an online knowledge database for CSOs, activists, and movements helping the elderly. The database will collect proven practices and technologies which can be applied across the whole country.

Working with Medical Centres

Vadim Samorodov, head of the department of international operations and social projects at the Russian Clinical and Research Centre of Gerontology (RCRCG) of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation at Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, notes: currently only 14% of elderly people in need receive formal care, with between four to eight million elderly people in Russia in need of social services.

Medical centres run the system of long-term care in different ways. For example, at Chaikovsky City Clinical Hospital (Perm region) they went from door-to-door to identify lonely people in need of help and a local community service was organised, while in Volgograd region a personal assistant scheme is being trialled.

The RCRCG has developed a model to support patients with serious diagnoses. The RCRCG passes patient information to the Help is at Hand coalition. Once a patient is discharged, a CSO from the coalition begins the process of providing them with support, cooperating with local social welfare services.

“When handing over a patient, we have to be sure that everything will be done properly, professionally and without mistakes, as it’s the medical centre that bears legal responsibility for this. If it transpired that a medical centre had entrusted patient care to a charity and then something bad happened, then there’s a real likelihood that the centre could be charged with a criminal offence”, adds Samorodov.

Samorodov believes that a uniform system of patient handover must be developed which can be used by all medical centres working with CSOs. Once this is developed it can be replicated in other regions.

“The system needs concrete figures, rather than just stories. You have to say what you’re able to do, how much it’s going to cost, and what resources you have. It’s good to hear someone say: “We came and fed this person in need”, but this doesn’t help us to understand how it’s going to work better in the future”, says Samorodov.

Problems and Experiences

CSO representatives point out that when working with the elderly it’s important to find common ground with local authorities, social welfare centres, and other organisations.

Svetlana Fain, director of Druzya obshiny svyatogo Egidiya (The Friends of St Giles Community), explained that experienced advice helps in identifying those in need, while neighbours sometimes help in raising awareness of “invisible” elderly people. More info: Svetlana Fain: Talking to the elderly opens up a new world for us.

District social welfare centres are one of the ways to access information about elderly people. According to Tatyana Petrovaya, head of the Chetyre vozrasta (Four Ages) centre, it often turns out that people on the social welfare register don’t actually need help.

In some regions there are cases where social welfare centres shift responsibility for looking for resources to provide for the elderly onto local CSOs.

Anna Yurpolskaya, head of the Moscow Volunteers Over 55 project, notes: elderly people aren’t able to find out which social welfare services they’re eligible for, which is yet another reason why many don’t seek out help.

The meeting took place on Zoom at the ‘Cooperating with CSOs to successfully help the elderly and people with disabilities: trends, technologies, experiences, and support’ conference. The conference was organised by the Union of Voluntary Organisations and Movements association together with the charity Blago dari miru (Do Good to the World) and the social engagement development CSO Gorod druzyey (City of Friends) with support from the Co-working Centre CSO in Moscow’s Southern Administrative Okrug.


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