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Community care proves best option for elderly and families

From : Xinhua

BEIJING, Feb. 6, 2011 -- At 87, Liang Chunhe is finding a whole new social life when his son departs for work every morning.

"I enjoy coming here," Liang says, playing chess at a day-care center in Xibahe Dongli Community, downtown Beijing.


Altogether seven senior citizens have come to the center, founded in April last year, each day for entertainment, exercise and lunch, and medical services.

Liang is one of the lucky few of China's elderly. Every evening his son takes him home, so he also enjoys family life -- a benefit many nursing home residents are deprived of.

"The Chinese have traditionally attached great importance to family and most elderly people don't want to leave home," says Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Community care offers both family life and professional care, Li says.

China, with 167 million people aged over 60 -- about 12.5 percent of its 1.3 billion people -- has more than 2.66 million nursing home beds, enough for 1.59 percent of the senior population, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The ratio compares with an average in developed countries of 7 percent and in developing countries of 2 percent to 3 percent, says the ministry.
With few nursing home places, families will remain the preferred and most practical way to care for the aged, says Wu Yushao, vice director of the China National Committee on Ageing.

About 90 percent of the elderly are cared for by family, Wu says.

However, the "only child" generation is struggling to care for four parents (their own and their spouse's), especially when they also have to take care of their children.
Faced with challenges to traditional family care, experts believe community care services are a good solution.

During last month's annual sessions of China's local people's congresses and political advisory bodies, many delegates suggested that home-based and community services should be combined to improve the lives of the elderly.

Li Zi, a member of the Anhui Provincial Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said day-care services should be promoted to relieve the burden on working people.

Dong Jiahui, a member of the Shaanxi Provincial Committee of the CPPCC, proposed the government should mobilize more social groups to support community-based services for the elderly.

Other suggestions included building care centers with 24-hour services and opening canteens to serve the elderly in their communities.

There was a consensus that more support should be given to the elderly care industry.

This was encouraging for Heidi Zhang, business development director of Pinetree Senior Care Services Co., Ltd., a home-care services provider.

Pinetree works with the authorities in the management of the day-care center at Xibahe Dongli Community. It helps the community provide professional care services with specialist nursing staff and facilities.

Pinetree charges 820 yuan a month (125 U.S. dollars) per client, which, Zhang says, is not profitable and the company relies on other business to balance its books.
"There is a great potential for the development of China's elderly care sector," Zhang says, but more government support is needed.

Many potential investors are holding back as the government is yet to issue industry standards.

"We are expecting more government support policies, especially in tax breaks," she says.