Hongkongers' retirement dreams in Dongguan resort cut short by economic realities

Dongguan resort built exclusively for elderly Hongkongers opens to locals after residents return home for cheaper medical services

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 9:21am

The growing number of elderly returning home from the mainland has forced the largest retirement village in Dongguan, Guangdong, to give up its exclusive service for Hongkongers.

The 27-hectare Kornlake Villa Resort in Zhangmutou was built by a Hong Kong investor targeting the city's retirees 10 years ago.

But the number of residents has dropped from about 300 six years ago to only 103 as of last month, due to rising costs on the mainland and the trend of older people returning to Hong Kong for cheaper medical services.

Most elderly living on the mainland are not entitled to any medical benefits, not even a free ambulance ride.

Resort chairman Xu Lei said the decision to open the village to locals was due to the lack of action by the Hong Kong government to improve the lives of people retiring on the mainland, as well as the local demographic pressure faced by Guangdong, where the number of seniors now exceeds 10 million.

Lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung, a former chairman of the Elderly Commission who has visited the village, urged the government to buy places there for Hong Kong seniors.

"The village is potentially an ideal place for Hong Kong people to retire. It's spacious and offers many leisure activities for the elderly," Tam said.

The government recently bought places for the elderly in two nursing homes run by the Jockey Club in Shenzhen and Zhaoqing, where a total of 84 elderly Hongkongers live.

The Zhangmutou case raises questions about the city's commitment to encouraging more people to retire on the mainland, a proposal floated in a policy document last year to cope with the surging numbers of the elderly.

Father Joe, an 88-year-old Anglican priest who moved to the retirement village seven years ago, said: "We are disappointed. I'm worried that the elderly will not get along well with [the mainland] newcomers [to the retirement home]. Hongkongers tend to be quiet."

FOCUS: Why retirees seeking the good life on the mainland are returning home

Another resident, Wong Kam-wah, said: "I have no choice but to accept the change [in admission policy]. I don't have any relatives to help me if I return to Hong Kong."

A room at Kornlake costs about HK$500,000, with monthly expenses of nearly HK$2,000.

Xu said: "When elderly people get older, their families prefer them to return to Hong Kong for medical services, which they think are cheaper and safer."

Social Welfare Department figures show the number of elderly receiving portable social security assistance in Guangdong and Fujian provinces dropped from 2,985 in 2009-10 to 2,096 in 2013-14.

The original investor behind the village, businessman Tam Wai-kwok, said that state-owned enterprise Guanghong Holdings invested in the resort last July and had since taken over the facility's management.

Xu said the village was part of the provincial government's pilot project to develop the "silver market".

Apart from expanding to more than 1,000 places at the village, the firm is planning to build flats and community facilities on undeveloped land.

Elderly Commission chairman Alfred Chan Cheung-Ming urged the government to extend the coverage of health care vouchers to those retiring on the mainland as early as possible.

A Labour and Welfare Bureau spokeswoman said it would only buy places at nursing homes run by NGOs with good track records.

And a Food and Health Bureau spokeswoman said it was considering extending health-care vouchers to cover the elderly living on the mainland at designated hospitals.