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November 27, 2013

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Charity to rethink night angel project

A CARE program pairing elderly Shanghai residents with youngsters from out of town who have jobs in the city is to be reviewed after it sparked a storm of criticism.

The “night guardian angel” project won financial backing from the Shanghai Charity Foundation, but the foundation’s Pudong branch said it would now undergo a review before deciding if it is to go ahead.

Overseas returnee Yang Lei, manager of the Pudong-based Huoban Jujia Senior Care Service Agency, came up with the idea.

After evaluation, 50 youngsters with nursing and rehabilitation qualifications would move into seniors’ homes to take care of them at night, according to the original plan.

The young people would provide care in lieu of rent, while the elderly would save on nursing fees by providing accommodation.

The program was granted 195,000 yuan (US$31,451) by the foundation.

However, several concerns were raised online. These included questions as to whether the young people are able to provide senior care; who will ensure the safety of the elderly; who will be responsible in case of accidents; and whether the seniors might be bullied if disputes arise.

There were also some who thought there was a danger of the elderly being cheated out of their apartments by their new “tenants.”

“I would worry a lot if a stranger moved into my mother’s apartment because I wouldn’t know whether he or she was trustworthy and whether he or she had a sense of responsibility that can ensure they take good care of her,” Shanghai resident Joyce Zhang said.

One netizen said there seemed to be a discrepancy between the value of the rent and the care that would be required, with the young people benefiting the most. Another said that to ensure the safety of seniors, relatives should be encouraged to care for them or an ayi hired. 

There were only a few comments in support of the idea, saying the scheme could provide spiritual comfort for elderly people who felt alone. It was an innovative way of dealing with the growing problem of how to care for the elderly, others said.

However, an online survey on that attracted several thousand of votes revealed that 81 percent of people were opposed to the idea.

In response to the concerns, Yang said the project, which would also be open to local young people, was looking for professionals from senior care agencies and centers. She said they would have to meet certain criteria and their credibility and backgrounds would be checked. Legal agreements would be signed over property and other financial issues and the pair plan would be on a voluntary basis.

She said the money from the foundation would be used to subsidize the elderly and agencies providing the service. Earlier, Yang had said that the project was due to launch early next year.

Sun Pengbiao, secretary general of the Shanghai Gerontological Society, said the idea was creative, but would be “very difficult to implement.”

The practice was carried out overseas, but it could not be easily conducted in China, he said.

Elderly people here might not take easily to strangers living in their house, and their children would have concerns over financial disputes and safety, Sun said.

The Pudong Charity Foundation said it would be holding a risk assessment meeting this week.  “The project needs to be further improved given the current social credibility and legal environment in China, and the uncertainty over risks and responsibility of seniors and those who move into their apartments,” the foundation said in a statement.

So far, seven elderly residents at the Shanggang residential complex have signed up for the project.

By the end of 2015, Shanghai is expected to have more than 4.3 million residents over the age of 60, or almost 30 percent of the registered population. About 700,000 of them will be over 80.



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