Senseless deaths throw spotlight on institutional care for young and old
As Hong Kong’s population ages and resources are stretched, society must remember that it is judged by the way it cares for its disadvantaged citizens
The senseless deaths of two people who should have been safe in institutional care highlight increasingly important issues for Hong Kong. The first was of a 79-year-old man with dementia who was hit and killed by a minibus in Ngau Tau Kok at about 2am, shortly after leaving a home for the elderly unnoticed. The second was of an autistic boy of 14 who apparently fell to his death in an alleyway from a care home for the mentally disabled in Kwai Chung some time before 5pm. Our first thoughts should be with those who delegated acute care of their loved ones. Our next thoughts should be about how such vulnerable people can be kept safe. It is not going to get any easier as the city ages and some families struggle to cope. Hopefully, investigations by the police and the institutions will throw light on the question.
A spokeswoman for the elderly home said Ng Chi-keung was seen sleeping shortly before the accident. Four staff were on night duty caring for more than 100 residents but it was impossible to deploy workers in every place. This is a one-off tragedy, but it is a reminder about the growing duty of care for the elderly, given that Hong Kong men and women have on average the world’s greatest longevity of 81 and 87 years, respectively.
This may reflect a world-class health care system, but medical science has yet to find a way to prevent a growing number developing dementia. About one-third of our population will be elderly by 2041, of whom it is expected one in 10 will develop dementia after 65 and three in 10 after 80. These are frightening figures. Given that current care resources dedicated to dementia patients do not meet demand now, the city urgently needs a long-term strategy for enabling the health care system to cope.
The death of the boy raises other questions about institutional security and safety in a city where cramped living and high rents can make it difficult for families to provide for special needs. It is a community as well as a family duty for which the government shares some responsibility on behalf of all of us. After all, a society is judged by the way it cares for its disadvantaged citizens.