Time to address the woes of caregivers

February 28, 2019 18:31
Family caregivers face a challenge as they need to look after their sick loved ones even as the carers themselves have problems of their own. Photo: HKEJ

On Feb. 22, the Legislative Council panel on welfare services held a special meeting to discuss the issue of “support for carers of elderly persons and of persons with disabilities”.

During the meeting, like in previous public hearings, I expressed deep concern about the situation pertaining to these stressed-out and helpless individuals.

The problem is, in the absence of a well-established set of policies to support these carers, I just wasn’t sure whether the senior government officials present at the meeting were really listening to all the views carefully.

As always, the officials who attended the meeting that day just responded to questions and articulated the official stance citing a lot of model answers from policy documents in the same way bookworms recite model examination answers.

While the bureaucrats were reading out contents of the government documents and went on and on with platitudes, they didn’t bother to look into the eyes of the caregivers who were there.

These high-ranking officials might be quick in answering questions, but their answers were stone-cold.

Meanwhile, each of the caregivers invited to the hearing was only allowed three minutes to tell their gut-wrenching stories.

First, a 78-year-old man told us that he has to take round-the-clock care of his 76-year-old wife who is suffering from dementia.

One day, coming down with a fever himself, the man said he sought treatment in a hospital after which he was asked to get himself admitted as an in-patient. However, he rejected the idea outright, he said, as he feared there would be no one to look after his sick wife.

Now, such situation begs the question: when would the government finally step up emergency support for the sick elderly and provide community nursery maid service for our seniors?

And then there was the 50-plus-year-old and epileptic woman who has been working on and off, but who has fallen victim to intense discrimination in the workplace.

Worse still, apart from struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, the woman has to look after her 70-plus-year-old mother, who is also a dementia patient, as well as her 90-year-old father, who has become paralyzed ever since he suffered a stroke.

“What would happen to my parents if I died before they did?” she asked.

And finally, another woman said she has to take care of her mother, who suffered a stroke six years ago. On top of that, this woman herself was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.

When the social worker who handled her case told her to take it easy, she replied frankly: “How can I possibly loosen up? How can I abandon a flesh-and-blood baggage?”

Sadly, while the government has been pouring a lot of public funds into white elephant projects in recent years, very few resources have been spent on carers.

How difficult is it for the administration to implement a comprehensive policy on family caregivers?

In fact another difficulty which carers are facing is not only the burden of looking after their sick loved ones, but also the fact that they themselves are getting old.

As a result, it has become increasingly common in our society for old people to take care of their older or sick family members, or for the sick to care for the old or sicker loved ones.

If the government continues to kick the can down the road when it comes to formulating caregiver policies, there will only be more and more tragedies.

At present, the government doesn’t even have a clear and unified definition of “carers”, nor does it have any well-documented figures about the numbers of carers in the city, their living conditions or problems faced by them.

In order to turn up the heat on the administration over this pressing issue, I moved a non-binding motion urging the authorities to study the demographics and the state of caretaking of service givers in the city and release the findings regularly. The motion was eventually passed by members of the panel.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member