I grew up next to the Nursing Home in Zenica, and ever since I could remember, Mom had been telling me and my brother that this is where we will put her when she grows old. So, I do not have the typical sense of aversion towards nursing homes, so widespread here in the Balkans. However, last summer I had a chance to visit that nursing home in our neighborhood, while we visited a friend of Mom’s, and afterwards I just told my brother „You know, I don’t know what might happen in my life, but I could not leave anyone close to me at that place.“

I thought that the very purpose of the nursing home was the problem, and that the situation was the same everywhere. And then I visited the „Betanija“ Nursing Home in Čapljina and later I told the Manager, „I would be ready to sign to be put in here right this minute, without hesitation.“

Because, truly, I could not find fault at „Betanija“. This institution is also a hospice, meaning that the patients in the terminal stage of their ilness are provided with full care. It is one of the rare institutions that offer such service to their beneficiaries.

Everything in there is new – everything is shiny and odorous, literally. It has air conditioning, because I nearly burst into tears while visiting our neighborhood nursing home, in which it was so stuffy, and for days I kept repeating that everything would be much better if they only had a/c,

At the moment, „Betanija“ can house 31 clients, but they already started constructing a second part of the home, which will also improve their offering. At the moment, the lack of available beds is their greatest problem, and it’s great that they already began the works on expansion.

The center’s employee team is young, and all of them repeated several times that the basic requirement for doing this job was – love, because these clients need a lot of attention, love and patience. There are 18 employees, and you can see that this is a decent number, taking into account the number of clients, and there is no chance that anyone is overlooked, or that a service is delayed due to the shortage of manpower.

„Betanija“ is also significant because of its workshop – living room for persons with developmental difficulties, aged 15-35. They will spend time there in the pursuit of fine arts, and hanging out with the other clients of the home.

I am glad that there are such institutions all over BiH, and I would love if the „Betanija“ became the standard for all homes and institutions. Because people who get into these institutions do not deserve anything less.

Manager Ante Bender, MA in public relations, has been here since the opening day, 11 February 2013. He told me more about the home.

Ante Bender:

The „Betanija“ nursing home for the elderly and disabled was established by the Caritas Bishopric Mostar – Duvno i Trebinje – Mrka. It is an institution that offers elderly and debilitated persons, as well as the persons in the terminal stage of life, i.e. to people who are dying. We opened on 11 February, because, on that day, the Catholic Church celebrates Our Lady of Lourdes, who is a protector of the sick, while we have, provide services and care for the elderly and terminally ill patients on the daily basis, 24/7. It is important to note that we have already hosted 144 person over these 4 years and 10 months. Among them, there were, for sure, some 40 palliative patients, and most often this happens when the hospital releases a person and it stays in our home for a day, two, three, five, but no longer than a month, resides in our dormitory. So, besides admitting mostly elderly and debilitated people, we always keep in mind to have three-four beds for the persons released from the hospital, in the terminal stage of their condition.

However, it has already become a problem that, already after the first half year of the home’s operations, we faced a shortage of beds. We always have a longer waiting lists, than we have persons hosted at the nursing home.

So, the demand is great, although we are told that it is not in our tradition to put people in nursing homes?

That’s correct. Certainly, as you already mentioned, sending someone to a nursing home is a taboo. There are only a few people here whose health is relatively sound, but they chose to come here. Most often, our clients are people who suffer from chronic diseases, who are bed-ridden and can’t lead independent lives, so there is always something that causes that a person is admitted in the home. Our society is not yet mature, and, let’s be honest, neither the pace of life, nor the buying power permits that people decide, just for kicks, or with no reason, to move into a nursing home. There is always a doctor’s referral to an institution of this kind, or it is the family context, if the family, or children, kin and others live abroad, so there is no one to care for the elderly person, in such cases they, eventually, come to the home.

Guided by this idea that such institutions are necessary, but also aware that we rose to the challenge with this first task, to set this home up and running, Caritas decided to expand the accomodation capacity, so, relatively soon, in a year and a half, or two, there will be the second Betanija wing, which will be near this building and connected to it. So, it would be a single „Betanija“ in two parts, so to speak.

What is your assessment of the degree of capacity increase?

It will at least double. Sixty at a minimum, probably 60-70, but we would choose to differentiate the categories of different sections with one as a retirement home, for people who are merely elderly. Next, the home for the persons suffering from dementia. The demand is so great for accomodation, i.e. to have an institution to house persons with dementia, because there are, in fact, no specialized institutions for that, Alzheimer, or any of the more severe dementias. And certainly, we would stay with our original decision, to retain a hospice for admission of persons in the terminal stage of life.

Is there a demand for the hospice from younger persons, since dying is not reserved just for the elderly?

You’re right. Just these days, we had a client, a brother looking for accommodation for his brother, who is not even forty years old. Unfortunately, we were unable to help, because, as I mentioned, the home is always filled to capacity, so we had to refer him to some other institutions. It is just a recent example. There was also a 50-something person, who stayed with us. However, it is not as frequent as we expected it to be.

Again, as you mentioned before, somehow, these persons, if it is possible for the family to be here, if it is possible, first of all, to provide adequate health care, such persons, when they are in family homes, if they have such care, they stay there. Exactly because these prejudices, the worrying about what people would say, what patients themselves would say, people often cannot decide. So, mostly these are person over 50, 60 years of age.

Is there anything else that you would perhaps like to improve, in addition to accommodation?

We would love to have a better support, i.e. any support from different levels of government in our country. The „Betanija“ Home was created by the decision of the Caritas Mostar, and that is how it keeps going. We maintain ourselves by charging our clients for accommodation. Still, with 18 employees it is impossible to reach sustainability, so, thanks to the management of the Caritas, its Director and the colleagues who work on certain projects, we manage to cover some shortfalls that emerge from month to month. Along with provision of adequate services, I am hopeful that the capacities of the new home will also fill up, so there we see a possibility for a degree of sustainability in the future, which is our hope.

This workshop for people with disabilities, it is also a part of the „Betanija“?

Exactly. In general, the Caritas of the Mostar-Duvno and Trebinje-Mrkan bishoprics is best known among all Caritas organizations in BiH for its caring for persons with disabilities. At the Mostar Caritas, they have three such workshops. One is the Nazareth in Mostar, another is Emanuel, also in Mostar, and the third is Betlehem, which is our workshop, this one in Čapljina. It was through this Betlehem workshop that Caritas expanded its activities outside Mostar for the first time. It had originally been housed in leased premises in town, and after the Caritas’ building here was constructed, then the workshop moved into the ground floor. Every day, 14 beneficiaries come here for their occupational therapy. Thirteen of them are from our municipality, and one beneficiary is from Stolac, because such an institution does not exist in Stolac. Our van picks them up every day, it travels at least 150km a day bringing them and taking them back home. They work here under supervision of two instructors, they fashion various kind of handicraft, which are later sold at selling exhibitions in certain parishes after mass, purely so we can purchase raw materials for making new ones. This is a pure work therapy for these beneficiaries, who are between 15 and 35 years of age.

Are they on good terms with older clients?

Most certainly. That’s quite interesting. Now, it’s already autumn and we are waiting for a spot of cooler weather, so they could step outside. They have a basket there, our beneficiaries often play basketball there. The basket was erected in memory of Bojan Bogdanović, who was the man who donated this new van that brings them here every day. And then, we installed a basket, so they would remember that gesture of his, and even the elderly come, and they play with them. It is a great mix. One group has their own health needs, the other their own, and it makes it easier for them to understand one another. And we are here somehow to coordinate all that, so in the end, they like it all a lot.