In my last blog (See https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/recovery-fatigue-guest-blog-by-herman-meijburg/) I wrote about the fact that after years of
struggling with their insurers some Cantabrians give up and accept a settlement despite the fact that it leaves them ‘out of pocket’. Their reasons are perfectly legitimate, not only because of the struggle itself, sick of the hollow promises, the delays or the long waits, but also because people move on with their lives. During these five and a half years their circumstances may have changed -an attractive job offer may need people to move elsewhere; family circumstances like a marriage breakup or an illness of one of the family members may force people to seek other living arrangements. All these circumstances and more can become legitimate reasons for policyholders to reassess their situation and change their plans for the immediate future. In my blog I also mentioned that ageing in itself may cause people to give up too. This topic will be the focus of this blog.
As many of the expected or the necessary repairs or rebuilds are delayed, elderly find themselves an awkward position. They also realize that given their age, they are likely to run out of time to see the repairs take place. Although they fall into the category of the ‘vulnerable’, this in no way has meant that the whole procedure of assessing damage to their home has ensured that their claim is settled within a reasonable time frame. Heartfelt stories have emerged such as the one of an elderly lady patiently waiting for the tradespeople to come and repair her house. She sat in the driver’s seat of her car day-in- day-out, while nothing happened for months on end. This ritual was her way of keeping watch over her most priced asset, her home. At times her neighbours would come and sit with her in her car to keep her company and share in her grief. She never saw her house repaired, because eventually she fell ill and died. Then there’s the story of Peggy Holdthuson, well into her nineties. Peggy also wants her house fixed before she dies. See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/9872232/Peggy-90-wants-home-fixed-before-dying). She cannot understand why she has to wait all this time and she wonders if it is because of her age that they (EQC) have no intention of fixing her house. Now Peggy has even come to think that EQC does indeed want her to die so “they don’t have to fix her house”.
When 93 year old Alf Johnson was finally handed the keys to his rebuilt home after a long wait of nearly 4 years, he died shortly after he moved in. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/9863017/Alf-92-waits-on-tardy-insurer). When Alf complained to his insurance company (State Insurance, IAG) about the long time he had to wait, the response from the insurer was that they had kept him up-to-date on all delays experienced since the first assessment of his home in August 2012. Alf was 90 at that time and clearly did not have many more years remaining.
In November 2014, John Patterson, one of the founders of the Older Generation Forum, pleaded in an open letter to the Earthquake Recovery Minister, to CERA, to the Christchurch Mayor and to the Insurance Council, to speed up the repair/rebuild program for the elderly. In his letter Patterson wrote that ‘time’ was the one thing that is not on “us older folks’ side”. “Some of the 400 elderly that attended the first meeting of the Older Generation Forum in 2012, are no longer here to see their houses rebuilt or repaired. They died. Many others feel ground down and are not able to take much more.”
When I attended the big protest in Christchurch on February 21st of this year I was struck by a poster which read “Each flower here represents someone who died before their damaged home was “sorted””. Suddenly I realised that the list of the 185 casualties from the February 2011 earthquake would need to be augmented with all those names of people who have died in the 5 and a half years since the earthquakes. Not only with the names of those who were mentally affected by their struggle to survive the stresses post-disaster and ultimately failed to do so, but also of those among us who ran out of time and did not live to see their homes repaired or rebuilt within reasonable time-frames.
The other day I read in the Christchurch Press that Southern Response has now admitted that settling their earthquake claims is likely to take them until 2019. (See http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/business/the-rebuild/78154050/southern-response-earthquake-claims-settlement-could-take-until-2019). That is a wait of more than another three years for those among us who no longer have ‘time on our side’. And this is only one of the insurance companies upon which so many elderly are dependent. The time will come (if it has not already) that the number of casualties among the elderly-still-waiting for resolution will surpass the number of casualties who died as a direct result of the February 2011 earthquake. The only difference between the two categories is that the latter will be remembered and commemorated; the former category, the elderly, will simply be forgotten. I find this desperately sad. This is a major failure in our so called recovery triage process. We could have done so much better!