Ningbo govt helps seniors to help themselves

Updated: 2012-12-20 00:59

By He Dan (China Daily)

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The government of Ningbo in East China is engaging the private sector and civil societies to provide diversified services for its aging population.

Residents in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, are familiar with 81890, a hotline that sounds similar to "dialing will work" in the local dialect.

The 81890 Hotline Service Center, which handles more than 3,000 calls daily, provides information and consultation 24 hours a day.

The center received 5 million yuan ($800,000) of government funding last year, said Ye Yang'er, its deputy director.

The center set up an emergency call system for senior citizens in 2005.

"Nowadays, we have more and more elderly people living alone, and some suffer from various diseases and disabilities. Safety for these elderly is becoming a pressing issue," said Ye.

"We read in the newspapers that three seniors in our city passed away on the same day because of health problems when they were alone at home, and they died hours or days before their families members or an ambulance arrived."

Ye said the tragic stories moved the center to act.

It came up with the idea to ask telephone manufacturers to design telephone sets with a special button that a senior can press to call for help, she said.

The city government has given the telephone to 20,000 households for free. The number is expected to double by the end of this year, she said.

"The government has promised to ensure all families with seniors aged 80 and above, as well as younger seniors who suffer from severe diseases or disabilities, will have such telephones by the end of 2015," she said.

Basic information about the phone users including name, age, medical records, contact information of family members and the community committee's phone have been stored in the center's online database.

"Once a senior presses the button, he or she will automatically be connected to our center, and our operator who answers the phone can see the caller's information on the computer and find out the best way to help," she said.

According to the city, there are more than 1 million people with residence permits aged 60 or older in Ningbo, accounting for 18.6 percent of its urban population.

The civil affairs authorities in Ningbo estimated that by 2015 the city will have 200,000 residents aged 80 or above, and two-thirds of the seniors would be in empty-nest households, with their children living far away.

The center also set up a communication club in late November, which enables seniors to dial a hotline and chat with volunteers for free whenever they feel overwhelmed by loneliness.

To date, more than 500 seniors and 60 volunteers have joined the club.

The city government also works hard to provide more community-based medical services for the old, especially for those living in economic plight.

Optometrist Chen Kan takes turns with seven colleagues giving free checkups and scans to poor senior residents in the city's Jiangdong district.

Chen comes to work two days a week at the Neighborhood Center of Jiangdong District, and his voluntary team usually helps 30 seniors a week.

"It saves time and some money for seniors who have eye diseases to receive free examinations in communities," he said.

The center functions as an incubator for the development of non-governmental organizations, providing working services including training, technical support, financial support and advocacy to facilitate the development of NGOs.

Xu Yiping, deputy director of the bureau of civil affairs in Ningbo, said the new era requires government to cooperate with the private sector and NGOs to deliver public services.

"The government is not capable of doing everything, and even if the government tries to do so, the public may not give credit to the government," he said.

"We are learning to engage the public and different organizations in public affairs," he added.

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