China faces shortage of nursing help

Updated: 2012-10-23 00:08

By He Dan (China Daily)

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China is lacking millions of nursing home employees to care for the country's growing elderly population, experts said, with many avoiding the profession because of the heavy workload, low pay and social stigma attached to it.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, more than 2.6 million people were living in 41,000 nursing homes nationwide at the end of 2011.

Yet the country has only 300,000 caregivers, and most of them have no formal qualifications, said a report released in August by the China Philanthropy Research Institute, which is affiliated with Beijing Normal University.

The shortage is severe, the report said, estimating that China needs about 11 million caregivers to care for 33 million seniors with various forms of disabilities.

Liu Meiying, 34, has worked at the Beijing Hetong Elderly Care Home for 11 years. She said that five of her classmates from nursing college, who also worked at the care home after graduation, had all quit in the past decade.

She said that many people are prejudiced against her work and that the social stigma has forced numerous professionals to leave.

"People think the work is all about dealing with urine and feces, and they regard it as dirty,” said Liu, from Southwest China's Sichuan province.

And the job is not always easy. Years ago, Liu saw a man in his 80s from her nursing home standing near the window with his pants about to drop.

"I was afraid that he would stumble or fall if the pants dropped, so I forgot to warn him before I ran up to him and helped him with the pants. The man got scared by my sudden move and he slapped me on my face,” she recalled.

Liu also said that the majority of her colleagues are female migrant workers in their 40s and 50s, adding that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit caregivers especially during holidays.

The low salaries are another reason behind the shortage of caregivers.

Lin Xiaoling, 22, works at a private nursing home on the outskirts of Beijing. She has earned a monthly salary of about 2,000 yuan ($320) since she graduated in July with a bachelor's degree in nursing for the aged.

"It's a tiring job,” Lin said, adding that she works round-the-clock to take care of more than 30 people. She helps them take showers and eat, among other things.

"I love my job. Being needed makes me feel proud and happy,” she said. "But I don't know how much longer I can do it. I can't help feeling regret about my career choice after I heard that my classmates, who chose to work in companies or hospitals, earn much more than I do.”

The shortage of caregivers is felt not only in Beijing.

A nursing home for seniors in Tianjin added 400 extra beds this year because of its expanding business, the Workers' Daily reported on Sunday. It also planned to recruit 200 caregivers, but only half of that goal has been achieved after six months, the report said.

In another media report, the head of a nursing home in Chengdu in Sichuan complained that his organization wasn't able to attract any college graduates after holding job fairs in five nursing schools last year.

More training

The government has taken action to speed up the training of caregivers to respond to the needs of China's rapidly aging population.

Yang Genlai, deputy director of the Vocational Skills Identification Guidance Center under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said that the government has allocated 30 million yuan from the revenues of the welfare lottery to train more caregivers for the elderly this year, twice as much as the amount in 2010.

The ministry also set an ambitious target to train 6 million caregivers by the end of 2020, based on a working plan released in 2011.

However, Guo Ping, an assistant research fellow at the China Research Center on Aging, said he is not optimistic that the situation will be fixed soon.

"Nursing homes need to improve working conditions for caregivers, such as bringing in more equipment to make their jobs easier,” he said. "Given the complexity of the problem, the shortage of caregivers will be around for some time.”

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