Call for urgent action as appalling plight of needy elderly revealed

Lawmakers shocked as appalling conditions in care homes revealed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 4:26am

Lawmakers have called on the government to act urgently to improve elderly-care services after shocking revelations about the plight of some needy senior citizens in private care homes.

At a subcommittee meeting yesterday, concern groups told lawmakers that poor elderly residents in care homes were often neglected because of staff shortages. The homes could not afford more or better staff because about 70 per cent of their clients were on public assistance.

The groups said some residents were left lying on their beds the entire day while others were tied to chairs. Some were left hungry and some were stripped naked and made to queue for hours to take a shower.

"In my care home, one worker had to care for at least 30 people at night," Chan Mu-zhen, a retired worker at a private care home, said. "In one case, a man was left hungry the entire morning because he was tied up to wait for his turn in the shower."

Lam Ling, of concern group Forthright Caucus, said: "The homes can't afford better staff because their clients are poor. So bad staff can stay because if they're fired, there'll be no one left to work."

Subcommittee chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung described the situation as "Hong Kong's shame", accusing officials of turning a blind eye to senior citizens' plight.

Lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung accused Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying of reneging on his promises. Before the chief executive was elected, he had vowed to "formulate long-term care strategies, strengthen home care and day respite services, and streamline and enhance residential care services".

According to the Labour and Welfare Bureau, as of the end of March, there were 748 residential elderly-care homes, 559 privately run. There were 306 homes for disabled elderly people, of which 70 per cent were subsidised by the government. In all, 76,000 senior citizens live in these homes.

"In a government-subsidised care home, the staff-resident ratio is about one to seven," Ng Wai-tung, of the Society for Community Organisation, said. "But most of the needy can't afford it without subsidies, and the queue for a subsidised place can be as long as three years."

Elina Chan Ng Ting-ting, principal assistant secretary for labour and welfare, said the government attached much importance to elderly services, citing a pilot voucher scheme for senior citizens to acquire the community care services they needed.

The Elderly Commission was preparing an elderly services programme plan, she said. The government had also identified 11 sites on which elderly-care homes would be built, she added.

According to the government, recurrent expenditure on elderly services rose over 40 per cent to HK$5.4 billion over the past five years. In the 2014-15 year, annual expenditure would be more than HK$6 billion, Chan said.