A recent decision by the Department of Justice not to press rape charges against Cheung Kin-wah, director of Bridge of Rehabilitation Co., a private nursing home for mentally disabled teens, has created a firestorm of controversy and provoked a huge public backlash.
But the problem of the nursing home runs much deeper than that.
Reports say some residents have died over past year as staff shortages have repeatedly led to accidents.
Unfortunately, what happened at that rehab center is in fact just the tip of the iceberg.
There are tens of thousands of elderly residents and patients with special needs in private nursing homes in appalling conditions.
Their ordeals have largely gone unnoticed.
However, despite the fact that private nursing homes for the elderly and the mentally disabled have poor service and unpleasant living environment, the government has largely turned a blind eye to those conditions.
Given the insufficient supply of public and subsidized nursing home places, the government has no choice but to allow these poorly run private nursing homes to continue to operate.
Compared with most poorly run and understaffed private nursing homes which are often obsessed with profit at the expense of the well-being of their residents, public and subsidized homes are by and large better managed.
That is why most people prefer them to private nursing homes.
The problem is, places in public and subsidized nursing homes are not enough and are so highly sought-after that many elderly or people with special needs have no choice but to go to private nursing homes (Editor’s note: according to the Social Welfare Department, the median waiting time for a place in public or subsidized home is three years.)
As we can see, before the government can provide enough places in public and subsidized homes to meet social demand, which is quite unlikely in the short to medium term, private nursing facilities are still necessary for society.
Having said that, I believe the most urgent task before the government is to tighten regulation of private nursing facilities in order to improve their management and services, as well as step up inspections to make sure they comply with the law.
Those that fail to comply with the standards should be replaced with public and subsidized homes to guarantee the elderly and the disabled decent and affordable service.
What will it take to replace all private nursing homes for the disabled with public ones?
According to government figures, there are 4,000 residents of private care homes. A rough estimate suggests it will cost HK$920 million (US$118.63 million) to relocate all of them.
It might sound a lot but in fact it is just peanuts compared with the white-elephant projects that are under way such as the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail link and the proposed third runway of Hong Kong airport.
I also urge the administration to improve the quality of service in subsidized nursing homes even though they are generally better managed than private ones.
For example, despite the fact that the Code of Practice For Residential Care Homes has been in force since 2011, a whopping 91.2 percent among the 226 subsidized nursing homes have failed to meet the requirements.
Moreover, the government should also build more public nursing homes in order to shorten the waiting time and enhance training and raise salaries of nursing staff to attract more young talent to join the industry.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 31
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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