Short-term service helps ease burdens
Updated: 2012-10-23 00:08
By Wang Hongyi (China Daily)
For the first several weeks after her husband had surgery on his gallbladder, Gu Xiafang had hardly a moment's rest.
From morning until night, the 68-year-old was busy nursing him and catering to his strict post-operation diet, as well as keeping up with her usual load of housework.
A caregiver feeds a 98-year-old woman at the care center of Ruijin Erlu community in Shanghai on Aug 30. The center, founded in 1993, employs 36 professionals and takes care of 59 senior residents. [Photo/China Daily]
"My children don't live nearby, and anyway, they are very busy,” Gu said. A traditional nursing home is not a sensible solution either, as they only takes in seniors on a long-term contract and rejects residents who need to stay there for several days or a few weeks.
Help eventually arrived in the form of a short-term, professional-care service for the elderly, which kicked off recently at the nursing center close to the couple's home in Shanghai's Huangpu district.
In addition to providing suitable meals for the patient, the center in the Ruijin Erlu community provides comprehensive health checks.
"The center has been a great help to us,” Gu said.
The nursing center has been open since the early 1990s but began offering short-term services only this month as part of a government program to improve elderly care in Shanghai.
The new service costs about 100 yuan ($16) a day and allows elderly residents to stay for up to two weeks, giving residents who take care of their elderly family members at home the chance to take a break from their nursing duties.
Located in a renovated two-story building and hidden in a lane close to the bustling boutiques and rumbling traffic of South Shaanxi Road, a popular shopping street, the center is a haven of silence and peace.
The demand for the only 10 beds it has allocated for short-term service is fierce, though the center put forward a higher threshold.
For instance, applicants are required to have their household registered at the community, actually live in the community, be mentally healthy and be free from serious physical illnesses.
More than 30 percent of residents in the downtown community are 65 or older, while the average age of people living in the center is 88.
"I have been dealing with more than 10 calls a day, while other people have simply visited us to register,” said Li Jian, the center's president.
"Looking after someone who is elderly is not easy,” Li said. "There are all sorts of things that need to be done, which makes it hard for people to get away. Short-term services can help ease that difficulty.
"In most cases, people who apply for the short-term service have something urgent to deal with and need to leave the elderly in our care,” Li said. "So we speed things up. Elderly people can usually check in within two or three days.”
The service also offers long-term home careers the chance to take a breather, such as a woman surnamed Wang, 56, who cares for her aging parents at home.
"They are both in their late 80s,” said the retiree, who did not want to be identified by her full name. "My daily life is caring for them. I don't have any time of my own. Sometimes I just want to have some rest, and the short-term service offers a relief.”
But the center, which still focuses on long-term services, has difficulties expanding the short-term service because of the limited number of beds it has.
Authorities are expected to expand the trial to more communities by the end of this year.
Sun Pengbiao, secretary-general of the Gerontological Society of Shanghai, applauded the service. He said many people in their 50s now care for elderly relatives, including some with chronic illnesses.
"This kind of work can result in emotional pressure and stress, which can harm the caregiver's health,” he said. "Respite services can help people relax.”
With a population of more than 23 million, Shanghai was the first city in China designated an "aging society” as early as the 1970s, when 7 percent of the population was 65 or older. The city's population department said that by 2020, one-third of the city's population will be elderly.
Facing the problem of how to allocate its facilities and limited land resources amid a growing aging population, the metropolis has been searching for effective solutions.
At the end of 2010, Shanghai had 100,000 beds at licensed nursing homes. This year, authorities vowed to add another 5,000. However, many argue it is still not enough.
"The city is aging too fast to have enough beds to accommodate the elderly population,” said Yu Xinzhong, an office director at Shanghai No 3 Social Welfare Home.
He said his center has a long waiting list, with more than 2,000 people who have been on it for at least six months.
Under the city's community care service mode, more than 90 percent of elderly people in the future are expected to live at home, receiving support and care from community centers.
This year, the city will build 20 day-care centers and 40 meal centers, benefiting about 270,000 elderly people, according to the Shanghai Municipal Civil Affairs Department.
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