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November 21, 2016

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Identifying needs, allocating care for the elderly

AMID a rapidly expanding elderly population, Shanghai authorities are working flat out to build a comprehensive healthcare system to serve the senior population.

In China, sons and daughters are growing older themselves and often find it hard to care for elderly parents. And many households with two wage earners can’t provide the round-the-clock care that their senior family members require.

The number of permanent residents aged 60 or older reached 4.36 million at the end of 2015 and is expected to climb to 5.3 million by 2020. Seniors are forecast to account for 36 percent of the city’s permanent resident population by that year, up from 30.2 percent by the end of last year, according to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

The number of people aged between 60 and 80 has risen sharply in recent years, said Yin Zhigang, director of the Shanghai Research Center on Aging.

The sharp increase is because of the baby boom that began in the 1950s,” said Yin. “Shanghai was the first city in China to enter ‘the aging society,’ and it has a wealth of accumulated experience on how to address services for the elderly. It’s an issue both the government and public at large recognize as a priority.”

It helps that Shanghai is a relatively “healthy” place to live. Less than 10 percent of those 60 years or older suffer from physical disabilities, which is lower than the national average, Yin said.

Chen Yuebin, director of the senior work department at the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, said the concept of “active aging” is a watchword.

“Seniors in Shanghai live longer and enjoy better health,” he said. “We don’t want them regarded as a burden to society. We encourage them to think positively and remain energetic.”

Shanghai plans to increase the number of senior care beds to about 160,000 by 2020 from 126,000 last year. People suffering from dementia or physical disabilities will be given priority and specialized care, according to the city’s current Five-Year Plan.

Construction of senior care facilities is being accelerated.

Plans this year call for the opening of 50 smaller, community-based care centers, after the success of 22 such facilities opened earlier.

These centers typically have 10 to 49 beds and can get through the planning and construction process more quickly than large senior care facilities, Civil Affairs Bureau officials said.

Unlike long-stay residential facilities, the aim of these centers is to support senior citizens, especially those living alone, with a range of medical and social services they can tap if required. The centers also can provide short-term respite care for seniors who develop illnesses and don’t have 24-hour care provided at home.

The emphasis is on continuum of care, providing a full range of services that allow the elderly to remain in their communities even as aging creates new sets of problems.

Training of senior care workers will be beefed up, and incentives like extra subsidies will be provided to attract people to a career that has largely been shunned in the past.

The number of senior care workers in the city is forecast to reach 98,000 by 2020, with more than 30 percent holding national-level care certificates.

Senior care homes with more than 150 beds are being encouraged to expand in-house basic healthcare services to forestall trips to hospitals.

The city’s blueprint gives seniors who live alone or who have no children priority under a new needs assessment system.

“The system seeks to ensure an equitable and efficient allocation of care resources,” said Li Chengwei, an official with the Xuhui District Civil Affairs Bureau.

The government plans to enhance financial support for the construction and operation of senior care facilities, and to encourage various social services groups to participate in the operation and management of those facilities.

Shanghai will also build up to three medical centers specializing in care for the aged in the next five years, and hospitals are being encouraged to develop or expand gerontology departments.

As of the end of last year, Shanghai had registered 699 senior care homes with 126,000 beds, 442 day-care service centers for seniors and 634 community meal centers for the elderly, according to the Civil Affairs Bureau.


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