Ageing society

Certification system for Hong Kong’s elderly care homes to launch in next 3 months following damning Ombudsman report on ‘systemic failure’

  • Welfare minister Dr Law Chi-kwong says scheme aims to boost standards but will be voluntary as many private facilities lack the resources to implement it
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 3:32pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 9:27pm

A certification scheme for elderly care homes will be introduced in the next three months to improve service quality, Hong Kong’s welfare minister said on Sunday, but the programme will be voluntary.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong said the government remained cautious about introducing tougher laws to regulate much-criticised private care facilities, as the move could spark “waves of closures” in the city, leaving many elderly Hongkongers with nowhere to go.

Earlier this month the city’s Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing unveiled a four-year investigation which she said had uncovered a systemic failure to protect Hong Kong’s elderly population.

Despite the government having issued thousands of warnings each year, the Ombudsman report said not a single care home had lost its licence.

Law told a television programme on Sunday that officials were devising a system of certification to encourage better procedures and higher standards.

The scheme was expected to launch before the end of this financial year, he added.

But the programme would be voluntary because it would require manpower and resources on the part of care homes.

“We cannot force [operators] to participate in the scheme,” Law said.

Hong Kong’s elderly carers are at a ‘high risk’ of physical and mental health problems, survey finds

Hong Kong’s licensing system for elderly care facilities was also under review, he added. Officials were considering attaching conditions to licences such as a minimum average space per person and minimum staff requirements.

The government’s review was set to conclude by mid-2019 before officials decided on whether to revise the legislation, Law said.

The Ombudsman investigation uncovered a host of incidents in which elderly residents had been mistreated. But many involved instances such as administering the wrong medication or improperly restraining residents, which are not illegal under the Residential Care Homes (Elderly Persons) Ordinance or the Residential Care Homes (Elderly Persons) Regulation.

Hongkongers live longer than any people on Earth, but what use is it when our elderly care is a disgrace?

Lau urged the government to revise the laws to make such breaches liable to prosecution.

The welfare minister responded on Sunday by saying he understood some laws needed to be revised to improve service quality, “but the revisions also need to be practical, or there may be waves of closures”.

“Where would the elderly go?” he said.

Suggestions have also been made for a points system under which care homes found to have breached service standards during unannounced government inspections would face penalties or revocation of their licences if necessary.

The government was also considering that idea, Law said.

“Inspections would be the follow-up action,” he added. “The best scenario is that care homes are all up to standard before inspections.”

Hong Kong needs creative solutions to elderly care

Some care homes serving grass-roots families were unable to provide high-quality services because they charged relatively low fees – about HK$9,000 (US$1,150) a month – and could not hire quality staff, Law said.

He pledged that the government would subsidise 5,000 more beds in private care homes over the next five years – a 62 per cent increase which would bring the number to 13,000.

Debate over the laws has been triggered by a series of complaints about standards and mistreatment. Cambridge Nursing Home in Tai Po was found in May 2015 to have left residents naked on a rooftop while they waited for a shower.

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who represents the social welfare sector in the legislature, said the certification system would be better than nothing, but the government should phase out low-quality private care homes. The private sector accounts for 65 per cent of the market in Hong Kong, he added.

Cheung said he was disappointed with what he saw as only small steps by officials in recent years.

“The government lacks determination and vision,” he said. “It has so much vision on infrastructure ... but when it comes to social welfare, it flinches and lacks commitment.”

Additional reporting by Karen Zhang