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Idle buildings to be seniors' homes

By Li Wenfang (China Daily)

16:50, May 18, 2012

To cope with the its aging population, Guangdong province plans to turn unused buildings into community care centers for the elderly.

Idle schools, hospitals, factories and office buildings will be renovated and made into residential communities and providers of services geared toward the elderly as a part of the province's drive to expand its social safety net.

Backed by the government, this approach tries to provide for the needs of the elderly within their own communities so that they have easy access to their homes and families.

Unlike nursing homes, where all patients live full time at the facility, the centers will also offer day care, allowing seniors to get healthcare while living with their families.

By 2015, community care centers will serve 7 percent of the elderly, while the traditional method of care by children in the home will still account for 90 percent and nursing homes, 3 percent, according to the province's five-year plan for senior care.

Guangdong's elderly population is in a period of relatively rapid growth. By 2015, the number of residents aged 60 and older is expected to reach 12.43 million, and the population aged over 80 will reach 2 million, according to the five-year plan.

Those aged over 60 numbered 10.72 million at the end of 2010, accounting for 12.6 percent of those with a household registration in the province.

The social security system for the elderly is insufficient to meet the increasing demand caused by the province's aging population and a decrease in the size of families.

For the elderly living at home, more service points will be built and businesses will be encouraged to provide related services. An information system will be established to link up emergency calls, hospitals and social service organizations.

The plan's target is for nursing homes to have a total of 350,000 beds or 30 beds for every 1,000 elderly people in the province by 2015. Nursing homes in Guangdong had more than 110,000 beds at the end of 2010, according to the provincial civil affairs department.

Also, more hospitals with departments specializing in elder care will be built in the future.

The most difficult part in expanding the care centers is management, said Law Koon-chui, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Sun Yat-sen University.

In implementing the whole plan, the government should clearly assign the responsibilities, including the sources of funds and the parties in charge of management, she said, adding some local governments are reluctant to fund the construction and management of care facilities for the elderly.

Wu Songyi and Shu Meng contributed to this story.

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