"It's all up to us"

“It’s going to be sporty.” The expression comes up more often in conversations with Dorothea Homann. However, the term seems to be quite an understatement, given the uncertain future that awaits the head of the Unterföhring senior center. Although the facility heats with geothermal energy, Homann is certain that her retirement home will still have to contend with higher energy prices. Because: The carriers cannot compensate for the costs for the time being. “It’s all up to us,” says Homann.

“The topic of energy has been on our minds since the beginning of the year,” says Hans Kopp, Managing Director of the Munich Workers’ Welfare Association (Awo). The association maintains eleven residential and nursing homes in and around Munich, including in Neubiberg and Oberschleißheim. The facilities are heated with gas, oil and district heating, explains Kopp. For all forms of energy, the price curve has been rising steeply since Russia’s attack on Ukraine at the latest: According to calculations by the comparison portal Verivox, the costs of gas for private customers have almost tripled in the last year. On average, heating oil consumers are currently paying twice as much as in January. And in May, for example, the Munich public utility company had to justify by calculation why its current district heating price was 116 percent higher than last year. In view of these figures, the forecast by Awo Managing Director Hans Kopp is not surprising. “For the area of additional costs, we expect additional costs of around 800,000 euros.”

The costs cannot simply be passed on to the residents

The problem for care providers like the AWO: they cannot simply pass on the additional costs to the residents of the home. On the one hand, this is due to the contracts with the person in need of care themselves. This regulates the costs for the services during the care. The care company calculates the price at the time the contract is concluded. In other words, an unforeseen explosion in energy prices hits the wearer hard. In addition, the adjustment of the care rates is only negotiated once a year with the care insurance funds and social welfare agencies. Especially in view of the rapid price developments, the costs that the health insurance companies cover and the real price are sometimes far apart, says Dorothea Homann, head of the Unterföhring senior center.

For retirement and nursing homes, the high energy prices are problematic in another respect. “We also heat in the summer,” says Homann. “Old people just freeze faster.” In her facility, for example, there is a senior who always carries a woolen blanket with her, even when it’s 34 degrees outside. Hans Kopp, Awo district association manager, objects: “Of course we’re having a very hot summer this year, so we tend to have to heat less.” Nevertheless, he also states: “Our heating is almost always on.” None of the seniors should freeze.

In view of this high level of consumption, it is important for nursing homes to save as much energy as possible. Asking the seniors for their help is actually not necessary, says Dorothea Homann. “They grew up in a time of hardship anyway. Saving is no problem for them.” Rather, she increasingly points out to the employees and carers that windows should be closed, empty rooms should not be heated or lights in deserted corridors should be switched off. Elsewhere, they even go a step further: “We’re trying to drop the room temperature by maybe a degree or two, as long as that’s still okay for the residents,” says Hans Kopp. In offices, one only wants to heat the room temperature to 19 degrees. “In some cases, we also checked whether the hot water supply could also be suspended there.” However, this is not possible because of the residential units in the same building.

Energy crisis: The Maria Stadler house in the municipality of Haar is heated with district heating.

The Maria-Stadler-Haus in the municipality of Haar is heated with district heating.

(Photo: Sebastian Gabriel)

The facilities housed in an energy-efficient new building, on the other hand, have to worry less about the right energy management system. These include the Maria Stadler House in Haar, which was completed in 2019 and heated by district heating. Far-reaching energy saving measures are less of an issue here, says Facility Manager Isabel Hofbauer.

The problem with excessive heating and energy costs is just one of many that care facilities currently have to deal with: Corona continues to cause great concern for the industry. Added to this is the high level of inflation, with the sharp rise in food prices being particularly noticeable in the homes. In addition, on the one hand, high personnel costs, on the other hand, a large shortage of nursing staff. “At the moment, that’s a bigger problem than energy prices,” says Hofbauer. Because of all these factors, she has no doubt that those in need of care will have to reckon with higher costs in the future. “Our residents have already been informed that price increases are pending.”

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