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Private-run Old Age Homes Booming in China

"Everybody will become old no matter how young he/she is now." This is a law that nobody can evade. The aging problem is a big issue that must be addressed by the entire society. In recent years, privately run old age homes are booming with each passing year.

"Nowadays, the traditional practice of old people being 'cared for by their children' is no longer a suitable solution for contemporary society. The newer idea of 'having property to support one's later life' may work but it cannot solve the fundamental aging problem," said Liu Yunhua, deputy secretary-general of the Welfare Service Work Commission for the Aged People, affiliated with the China Association of Social Workers.

Many old people's experience has proved Liu correct.

Ms. Wang Ming, 71, has two sons and owns a flat, but she would rather live in the old age home. In Beijing Jinmengyuan Old Age Home, nurses come every evening to massage her. She said that she had a stroke; she is now paralyzed on one side of her body. Her sons both live overseas. All they can do is to comfort her by talking over the phone.

Mr. Zhang Shugui, 78, suffered from glaucoma and needed an operation right away. "The doctor asked me to have my children come with me when I went to the hospital, but none of my three children had time," Zhang complained. Now, in the Tianle Old Age Home located in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, Zhang pointed at the medicine that the doctor had prescribed for him saying, "I came here right after my operation. I have people here to take care of me and I do not have to wait until my children have time."

Wang Ming and Zhang Shugui are just two of the many old people in China who have similar difficulties.

According to an authoritative source, the over 60 population has reached 134 million in China. This accounts for more than 10 percent of the total population. For a long time to come, the proportion of aged people will continue to increase by 3.2 percent every year. "This means that China, still a developing country, has to solve the aging problem. In China this issue is even more serious than in the developed countries," Liu stressed.

It is a trend to change the welfare-type old-age systems into a social security system with multiple supports.

On the "First Forum on Promoting Old-age Social Security System and Strengthening the Management Experience of the Institutions for the Aged" held recently, Zhang Jingbo, the director of the Dalian Workers Old Age Home, noted that in the past their institution was a welfare-type home for the aged. They only accepted elders who had retired from businesses and public institutions. After the introduction of newer experiences, such as the "family-style service", they became better well known. In 2002, they merged with a poorly managed, privately run old age home and turned it into a new branch on Xiaoping Island. This is the first successful integration between a public old age home with a private one in Dalian and even in the whole northeast area of China. The "Xiaoping Island" branch has doubled their number of beds from 50 to 100 and is fully occupied. Their reputation has greatly improved.

According to Zhang Mingliang, director of the Social Welfare and Social Affair Department of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the ministry had, as early as in 1980s, set the socialization of public welfare as its development goal. In recent years, the ministry initiated a series of meetings to promote the old-age social security system. A kick-off meeting was held in Qingdao, Shandong Province, in 2005. A conference of information exchange was held in Dalian, Liaoning Province, in 2006, and a meeting on service socialization for the aged is scheduled for later this year.

"Although more attention has been paid to the socialization of service for the aged, problems concerning the lack of policy, regulation, funds and new concepts still exist," Liu said. "A recent survey shows that among the 134 million old people, five percent of them are willing to live in an old age home. This means 6.7 million beds are needed; the current 1.7 million beds are far from enough."

In face of the existing problems toward promoting the socialization of services for the aged, more efforts under the guidance of the government are imperative. These services should be market driven in order to create multiple forms of services for the aged, explained Yan Qingchun, vice director of the China Aging Issue Commission.

How to solve the problem? Zhang Mingliang has comments on two possible ways.

First, China must build up a welfare service system for the aged, composed of home-care as the basis, community as the support, and old age homes as the supplement.

Zhang pointed out that the elderly have their own traditions regarding their later life. A survey by the Ministry of Civil Affairs shows that 95 percent of Chinese elders want to live at home or in their communities. So there is need to promote home-based care, and provide more services through the community.

Second, the government should devise appropriate laws and regulations. Officials should encourage and support the social forces to start and stay involved in old-age business.

In Zhang's view on this issue, the government has to have a long-term goal and plan, with corresponding policy to give support. In addition, he suggested that the government be responsible for the expenses of the aged people who are homeless, helpless, from poor families, or without any income.

In fact, some areas in China have made great efforts in this respect. For example, Shanghai municipal government pays a subsidy of 5,000 yuan (US$662) for every newly added bed in the old age homes. The local government and the community also provide certain allowances. Beijing has a similar policy. Now different localities are making positive efforts in different ways, each according to its situation, to provide policy and financial supports, even for privately run old age homes.

Zhang affirmed that in 2006, among the over 30,000 old people homes in rural areas, there were only 1,400 public welfare institutions. The number of private ones is rapidly increasing year after year.

(China Development Gateway by Xu Lin August 29, 2007)

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