Mandatory accreditation needed for care homes
- A publicly recognised scheme requiring continuous improvements where necessary is more likely to lead to better performance and self-regulation
Care homes for the elderly tend to fly under the radar compared with other institutions such as public and private hospitals when it comes to standards and accountability. One exception was the Social Welfare Department’s eventual refusal to renew the licence of a Tai Po home that outraged the public by leaving residents naked or half-dressed in the open air for up to an hour and a half before staff took them for a shower. We know this is an exception from a disturbing report from Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing. An investigation by her office had shown that between 2014 and 2018, the Social Welfare Department had issued 2,000 to 3,000 advisories a year, but not a single care home lost its licence or failed to have it renewed with the exception of the Tai Po case. “For warnings issued for incidents of a serious nature, such as a shortage of manpower, no timetable has been set as to when the homes need to have taken rectification actions,” she said.
Following the raising of awareness by the Tai Po scandal, the department had issued 309 warnings to seniors’ homes in 2014-15, 352 and 466 in the following years, and only 139 last year. When officials did decide to prosecute, 39 cases resulted in convictions.
This is a disturbing situation in a city with both high longevity and an ageing population. It does not have enough care facilities for the aged and an increasingly serious shortage looms. It needs these homes to meet the required standards rather than be forced out of business because of failure to do so, or close because of the cost of compliance. But the safety and welfare of vulnerable seniors remain paramount. It is therefore good that from early next year the government plans full subsidies for private residential care homes to join accreditation schemes, of which there are five voluntary versions in Hong Kong. But in the light of the ombudsman’s report, serious thought should be given to the suggestion from Dr Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the Elderly Commission, that mandatory accreditation should be introduced for care homes to make official oversight more effective. He said mandatory accreditation by a publicly recognised scheme requiring continuous improvements where necessary was more likely to lead to better performance and self-regulation.