Plan to reduce wait for care homes: send Hong Kong's elderly to Guangdong

With thousands dying on waiting list, minister says charity-run facilities may offer answer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 10:04am

Elderly people waiting years for a government-subsidised place in the city's care homes may be given the choice of joining a fast-track queue for places in two Guangdong facilities run by Hong Kong charities, said the labour and welfare chief.

The move, still on the drawing board, is another step in the direction of "portable welfare", added Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.

With waiting lists for government-subsidised homes in the city running at more than three years - more than 5,000 died before getting a place in 2011 - Cheung called the move "a breakthrough".

"It is not to export our elderly to Guangdong, but more like to facilitate," he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. "If cash is portable, then home care services can be as well.

"It could be done by buying spaces [in the two homes], or it could be in the form of a portable subsidy. But the whole plan is still being formed at the moment. These two care homes may not even know yet."

The queue constantly hovers at around 28,500 people and an earlier Post report stated it would take about 50 years just to clear the current list.

The two Guangdong homes in the frame were built with funds from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.

When the Post visited one of them, Yee Hong Heights rehabilitation home in Yantian, only 158 spaces in the 280-bed facility were filled.

Established initially for Hongkongers retiring across the border, only 51 elderly living at the facility are from Hong Kong. The home, which is run by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, has now started to take in elderly from Guangdong, but a spokeswoman said that Hongkongers would get priority.

The second home under consideration is in Zhaoqing and is run by the non-profit organisation Helping Hand.

If the plan proved feasible, Cheung said he hoped a pilot scheme could be in place next year.

It would follow this year's planned introduction of the Guangdong Scheme, which will allow retired Hongkongers living in the Guangdong area to receive the HK$1,100 monthly old-age allowance.

"We are breaking new grounds in terms of portability of welfare benefits," said Cheung. "This is an important first step - a major strategic step allowing the elderly their freedom to retire [in Guangdong]. We are pretending that Guangdong is Hong Kong."

Increasing connections between Hong Kong and the Guangdong region is prompting a shift in needs that has to be catered for, added Cheung. Whether that be people moving across the border when they retire or the increase in cross-border marriages.

At least 30,000 elderly are expected to benefit from the Guangdong Scheme, which will be reviewed after one year.

If it proves successful, then the means-tested Old Age Living Allowance of HK$2,200 may also be rolled out to retirees in Guangdong, said Cheung.