Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

13 Aug, 2015

China Focus: Beijing looks to neighbouring cities to accommodate elderly

BEIJING, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) — Beijing is planning large communities for senior citizens in nearby cities as part of the capital’s effort to achieve coordinated development in the region.

A 300,000-square-meter pilot community in Gaobeidian City of Hebei Province is currently under construction and similar facilities are expected if it proves successful, Li Wanjun, head of Beijing’s civil affairs bureau, said on Monday.

The Gaobeidian community, with elder care-giving and health care services, in addition to accommodation, should meet all daily demands of dwellers, Li said. “The site boasts picturesque scenery, plus is only an one-hour ride from Beijing.”

He said no new large nursing institutions will be set up in Beijing in the future, adding that even if new ones were allowed, the charges would be sky-high given the capital’s land cost.

Official data shows that three million Beijing residents, about a fifth of its permanent population, were aged 60 or older by 2014.

Luring dwellers to the new facilities will be improved supportive services, such as health care, in new rest homes outside Beijing. Li said health authorities are working on a pilot program allowing Beijing citizens to use their medical insurance at a hospital in neighboring Hebei.

Liu Wenzhong, a 53-year-old Beijing native, said it is unlikely he and his wife would consider a nursing home outside Beijing after retirement. “Too far. I’m afraid I couldn’t meet my family very often.”

Liu placed medical service, living conditions and environment as his top three priorities for a nursing home. “My top choice would be one in Beijing’s suburbs, such as Miyun and Huairou districts. Those in the downtown are noisy and expensive.”

As an office worker with decent pay at a public institution, Liu does not want to become his son’s “burden” when he can not care for himself. He would not hire a care-giver for his home either, because “we would pay extra attention to oversee her work and may pay more money than staying at a nursing home.”

Liu also longs for the chance at new friends with similar hobbies at the nursing home.

“Those would make interesting memories in my twilight years,” he said.

Beijing’s move sparked concern that the capital would gradually cast off its duty to care for the elderly, and Li responded with a firm no.

Starting from this year, emphasis should be placed on refining existing nursing facilities, whose rapid development caused headaches, such as a severe lack of qualified care-givers.

The local government is preparing to open several schools to train care-givers and send them to nursing facilities, according to Li.

Beds in Beijing’s rest homes shot up to nearly 120,000 during the past five years, with an annual increase of about 10,000. However, occupancy is about 60 percent on average, only slightly higher than the national ratio.

Waiting lists are long for facilities with good services, reasonable prices and nearby downtown, while some in the outskirts or lacking adequate services see high vacancy rates, Li said.

From 2016 to 2020, hundreds of rest homes in Beijing will be renovated and upgraded.

Since many senior residents are unwilling to leave their daily life, Li said the government is establishing small-sized care centers, each with 50 to 100 beds, around elderly homes.

“They can be sent to the center in the daytime and taken home by their children after work,” Li said.

Beijing has set up over 100 such centers and will increase the number to more than 200 by the end of next year.