Lee Lan, 87, wants to see her Down's syndrome son safe in a care home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 April, 2013, 9:40am

At 87, Lee Lan's biggest wish is to see her son safe in a government-subsided care home for disabled people.

In poor health herself, Lee wants to know 45-year-old Chan Chi-bun will be safe and secure when she isn't there to help him. But after almost a decade on a waiting list, the future of her son, who has Down's syndrome, continues to prey on her mind.

"I worry every day. It would greatly ease my mind to see my son in a good home, and I can visit him to make sure he's treated well while I still can," she said.

The mother and son applied for a care home space in 2004. Before that, Chan lived in dormitories for the disabled when he was working, first at Maxim's and then at a shelter for the disabled.

He was transferred to a government-subsidised care home when his health deteriorated, but he was severely bullied there and suffered a bad head injury. Chan still has to wear a helmet when he goes out, because of the mental trauma from that experience.

After surgery to remove blood clots from his head, Chan was no longer able to perform even simple daily tasks such as cooking rice and showering himself as he used to, Lee said.

Lee had no choice but to bring him home to her public flat, and join the back of the queue for a space in another home.

A social worker told Lee that Chan may be offered a space by the end of this year or beginning of next year at the earliest, but the uncertainty continues.

"My health gets worse and I don't know how much longer I have," Lee said. Even now, it is tough to find someone to take care of Chan when Lee has to spend time in hospital.

Lee's health has grown increasingly fragile, and she says she has fallen many times in the past two years; once she fell off a bed and broke her leg in two places. Even crawling up to bed is hard, and her son sometimes has to carry her.

"I can't even go to [the supermarket] by myself now," she says.

"You think I want to leave my son in a care home? Like I don't want to take care of him myself?" Lee said.

While the government has encouraged the care of elderly and disabled people in the community, she says the concept simply does not work. And she fears that a tough new licensing regime that threatens the existence of private hostels will leave her son with an even longer wait for a bed as the government deals with emergency cases first.

In the meantime, mother and son live off Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and help in the community, under a government-backed scheme that assists them with cleaning and meals. Someone comes three times a week to help bathe Chan but Lee says it is not enough.

"He has been by my side since the day he was born," says Lee with tears in her eyes. "Back in the day when I would assemble plastic flowers for money, he'd help. He'd help around the house - he is so good, such a good child.

"He doesn't know how to express whether he's hurt, or whether he has been mistreated. So I have to make sure he's taken care of."

Lee has had to turn down a space for herself in a home for the elderly because of her concern for her son.

It can take up to 12 years for a mentally disabled person to get a place in a care home, and 10 years for a physically disabled person.

A growing number of parents are applying for a care-home space for their children even before they need it, because they fear places won't be available when they do, says Eddie Suen Kwok-tung, chief officer for rehabilitation at the Council of Social Service. This leaves those in need of a place unable to get one.

"If the government doesn't shorten the line and clear up the current applications, fear of not getting a space will persist as parents will start queuing early, and the situation will only continue to get worse," Suen said.