Homes for the elderly see plea answered

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2006, 12:00am

A long-voiced plea from homes for the elderly for visiting doctors to attend their patients will be met from a $10 million subsidy announced in the budget.

The sum is part of $100 million earmarked to help disadvantaged groups.

It was not immediately clear whether the 9,500 residents of the 200 subsidised homes for the elderly would need to shoulder part of the doctors' fees.

A government source said the funding would cover most, if not all, of their medical expenses.

'Maybe the social security recipients will be exempted from paying, while the others will have to pay a little,' the source said.

'The mode of service and payment are not yet finalised.'

The service will be reserved for those with serious health problems, on condition that it adds nothing to the institutions' operating costs.

Chow Kwok-hung, the curator of a government-subsidised home, welcomed the move.

'Now, we can only afford part-time doctors who visit our residents two to three times a week on a semi-voluntary basis,' he said.

'If any of our residents fall sick outside the doctors' visiting hours, we have to take them to hospital, which is not good for those with mobility problems.'

The government will also spend $17 million on setting up five rehabilitation daycare centres for disabled and recovered psychiatric patients.

'At least 8,000 people are expected to benefit from it, but we will need to consult the public on the choice of sites later this year, which is always a sensitive issue for residents,' the source said.

Only one of the five centres has so far had its location fixed - Tang Shiu Kin Hospital.

In the coming year, the Social Welfare Department will adopt a more active approach to handling family problems, with $30 million to be invested in strengthening outreach services for the Integrated Family Services Centres.

More social workers will be hired to identify needy families who are reluctant to come forward to seek help. But the efficiency of the centres, which has often been criticised by community groups, is again being questioned.

'Of course, the policy is better than nothing, but in these centres, the ratio of social workers to those in need is 12 to 100,000, said Sze Lai-shan, organiser for the Society for Community Organisation.

'I wonder how many extra hands they can deploy with just $30 million.'

It is not yet clear how many new staff members the centres will hire.

The extra social workers will be required to make random phone calls or go door to door to seek out families with potential problems, like the family of four in Tin Shui Wai whose father killed his wife and their two children before committing suicide in April 2004.

The remaining $40 million will be used to provide home-care services to the 2,000 elderly who are still on the waiting list, and to extend a scheme that assists young mothers, single-parent families and children with congenital health problems in the Yuen Long and Tung Chung districts.