Vulnerable residents at a care home for the elderly near Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, have been mistreated and neglected, a BBC Africa Eye investigation has revealed.
Secret filming shows staff members physically mistreating residents, dumping food directly onto tables without any plates, and leaving medical conditions untreated.
“Hit her on the buttocks. Beat her,” a member of staff urges a stick-wielding colleague, at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Thogoto Care Home for the Aged, about 20km (12 miles) west of Nairobi.
The undercover footage shows that moments before, three staff dressed in purple uniforms, surround an old woman by a metal gate flanked by sheets of corrugated iron at the perimeter of the home’s garden.
“Where were you heading to on that side?” asks one of the staff. “You were called and refused to come back.”
The old woman, wearing a fleece and a bobble hat, appears confused and frightened.
“Oh, please forgive me,” she says.
“Now we have to cane you,” says one of the staff.
A staff member can then be seen hitting the elderly woman’s bottom with a wooden stick.
This is just one example of evidence of mistreatment uncovered in the BBC Africa Eye investigation.
The care home was set up by the Women’s Guild of the local PCEA church but is now managed independently. It is home to around 50 elderly women and men.
Over the last decade, the number of homes for the elderly is reported to have almost tripled in Nairobi. Many don’t charge rent and are supported by local churches or rely on donations.
In the next 30 years the elderly population in Africa is projected to triple from 75 million to 235 million, according to the United States Census Bureau report from 2020.
Its growth will be faster than in any other region of the world, making the prospect of sending elderly relatives to a care home a reality for an increasing number of families.
In 2020, the Kenyan broadcasting channel, Ebru Television, filmed inside Thogoto Care Home. The manager, Jane Gaturu, presented an image of a safe haven, where residents were well fed and cared for.
BBC Africa Eye heard worrying reports this was not the case. Two undercover reporters got jobs at the care home and spent 14 weeks secretly filming inside the facility.
As well as the footage of staff hitting the elderly woman with a cane, they recorded staff admitting to physically abusing other residents.
“Sometimes you have to use force,” says a staff member, sitting outside under a canopy during a tea break.
“Even carers who start being polite, they find themselves being aggressive towards clients,” she says.
They go on to describe one man who “is always being caned”.
“We beat him and that is what calms him down. Because if he gets angry, he can even hit you with a rock,” she says.
The reporters filmed further examples of apparent neglect and mistreatment, including medical conditions being left untreated. One elderly man was suffering with a serious skin problem.
“I’m feeling pain. Too much, too much. I feel like I’m burning,” he can be heard saying in the footage, trying to show an undercover reporter his neck. He claims care home staff won’t take him to hospital to be treated.
The gravity of his skin condition is difficult to determine in the secret footage, but the undercover reporter says he was bleeding very badly.
“He gave money to Jane [Gaturu, the care home manager] to take him to hospital,” the reporter says.
“He was not taken to hospital. And when he asked Jane, Jane was very angry with him. And she even told him: ‘Your home is just around the corner, and your people have given up on you. Do you think I will be able to help you’?”
“He used to tell me: ‘We are waiting for death’,” the reporter recalls.
It took around six weeks before the man saw a doctor, with money provided by his family.