World-class city should not allow its elderly to languish in helpless indignity

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2012, 12:00am


I visited an elderly relative in a Kowloon care home and was appalled by the conditions.

Granted there was a certain degree of cleanliness, but I was struck by the suffocating and pervasive stench of stale excrement.

There seemed to have been no attempt to get rid of the smell or to freshen the air. Not only was it almost unbearable, but many elderly people were housed in bed-cubicles separated only by waist-high partition boards, with no provision for their privacy and dignity.

Visitors had no choice but to walk past them as they were being washed or helped with bedpans or asleep with their mouths open. There were no curtains that could be drawn around their beds so they could be given some privacy while being washed or sleeping.

The whole atmosphere was depressing and grey. There were no plants or flowers or anything that might brighten the place and make it a more pleasant, comforting home environment. A lick of new paint was badly needed; the furniture and bedding appeared as old, tired, threadbare and grey as the occupants.

Much as I was appalled, I was also ashamed that I could not stomach being in that place for more than five minutes; I was physically sick. How can I explain this to my relative, who has no choice but to live there?

I believe the elderly in Hong Kong deserve something better than languishing for the rest of their days in such horrendous circumstances.

Many of them would have suffered much adversity in their younger days. Hong Kong is supposed to be a world-class city; I have heard and read this claim time and again in the short time I have been here. Why, then, in a world-class city, are our elderly citizens subjected to such indignity in their final years?

Why is it that Hong Kong has surplus fiscal reserves, yet elderly people stagnate in such third-world conditions? These citizens are truly voiceless and helpless.

I am not speaking of all care homes. I've only seen two, the first one much worse, but it's enough to turn one's stomach. This kind of environment does not make it conducive for friends and relatives to visit; in fact it encourages society to shun the residents.

We had all better hope that we will not, one day, end up in one of these places because we have no other choice.

Lisa Wong, Pok Fu Lam