Tight budgets of the elderly cause issues for industry

Updated: 2013-12-25 02:02

By He Dan (China Daily)

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Wang Jinling used to spend most of her days at home.

Arthritis was the stated reason, according to the 82-year-old Beijing resident.

But the real reason was "I didn't have a place to go to have fun", she said.

Her situation improved, however, after a senior care center opened in her community in Beijing's Haidian district in May.

Wang now visits the center twice a week for a massage and a free blood pressure check and to play games designed to help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Now, "I am healthier and happier," she said.

The center is run by CAJ Senior Care Services, which has introduced service standards and procedures from Right at Home, a leading home care company in the United States.

In 2012, about 2.63 million people older than 60 years of age lived in Beijing. Put another way, one in five of the city's dwellers with a permanent residency permit is gray-haired, according to a report on senior populations and the development of the elderly care industry released by the Beijing Committee on Aging in September.

The rapidly aging population in the Chinese capital has created new opportunities for private and foreign senior service providers.

The Riei Health Care Service Center is a Japanese-funded company that has been running a senior center in the Haidian area since November 2012.

But the limited finances of the elderly present challenges to service providers, said Zhang Xuemei, manager of the center's Beijing office.

"In Japan, the senior care industry is mature. When a senior citizen enjoys care worth 1,000 yen ($9.6), 90 percent is covered by the government via nursing-care insurance, while elderly people in China have to pay for such services themselves," she said.

Zhang's company charges its senior customers at least 3,400 yuan ($560) for one month of daycare services that include food, rehabilitation and assisted bathing. A month's worth of 24-hour care costs more than 5,500 yuan.

But "we still cannot make ends meet", she said.

In 2012, Beijing's retirees, on average, got a monthly pension of 2,510 yuan, according to the Beijing Committee on Aging.

Although the government has pledged to boost the development of private senior care providers, some policies cannot be realized due to rigid requirements set by the government, Zhang said.

"The government promises to provide monthly operation subsidies and renovation subsidies for care institutions that offer at least 10 beds, which sounds good, but the precondition of owning 10 beds has disqualified a lot of institutions like us," she said.

Zhang said her organization in Beijing can provide only eight beds in a villa with an annual rent of 480,000 yuan.

"To guarantee a cozy environment for our customers, we need a large space for 10 beds, but it's too difficult to find such properties in Beijing's residential communities where the rent is affordable for us," she said.

Mu Lina, deputy secretary-general of the China Silver Industry Association, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the elderly care industry, said fewer than 20 service providers from overseas are operating in Beijing.

"The unique culture, consumption habits and complicated regulations of the Chinese market has held back many foreign senior service companies from entering Chinese cities," she said.

Li Hongbing, deputy head of the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau, told China Daily that if some foreign companies have had problems investing in homes for the aged in Beijing, the government is willing to help solve them.

"All investors are welcome as long as they are willing to contribute to the senior citizen nursing industry"

Zheng Xin contributed to this story.