Demand rises for high-quality, affordable services

 |  China Daily

A coach teaches senior citizens how to exercise at a rehabilitation center in Tianjin. [Photo by Jia Chenglong/For China Daily]

A typical day for 82-year-old Beijing resident Wang Baoyu centers around a senior care center near his home.

He and his 80-year-old wife visit the center almost every day, either to fetch the delicious and nutritionally balanced food they have ordered, or to take part in activities the center has organized, including lectures, movies, photo shoots, and performances.

"With the center, its activities and the friends we have met there, we no longer feel lonely, and the takeout food is especially convenient, saving us the trouble of cooking or dining out," said the retired scientist who is entitled to special subsidies from the central government.

Wang is one of a few hundred seniors who live near the center and benefit from the community-based care facility, which is operated by Hualu Senior Care and Health Management Co Ltd, a Beijing-based State-owned enterprise making fast inroads into the senior care industry.

Li Congrong, vice-president of the company, said the firm has established a strong presence with significant growth in the industry since it was set up about four years ago, thanks to its adherence to innovation to meet middle-end, high-quality senior care service demand in China.

"The senior care industry in China keeps developing, but many of the high-quality senior care facilities target wealthy people who can afford expensive service charges," he said.

"Our company, on the contrary, tries to provide good quality but affordable services to the general public through business model innovation and efficiency enhancement."

When people are old, they need all sorts of care and services, but ultimately, the most urgently needed senior care services in China are for those dependent seniors who suffer from dementia or physical illness, and cannot live by themselves, he said, adding that those who are physically challenged or suffering from dementia are the company's core service receivers.

The care center the company operates in Wang's residential area is a flagship facility, which opened nine months ago and provides community-based care services for both dependent seniors and those who are still able to look after themselves.

The main concept is that by establishing such a facility within an urban community, instead of a distant suburb, seniors living in the facility will not become isolated from people and places they are familiar with, especially as it allows their children and friends to visit them more easily.

Also, seniors living in proximity to the facility such as Wang can access services whenever they wish.

More importantly, such a facility can either hire certificated medical professionals or partner with nearby clinics and hospitals to provide basic medical services to seniors, including chronic disease medications and physical care.

Zang Xianghua, the daughter of a 93-year-old Beijing resident suffering from Alzheimer's disease, said she felt lucky to have found the company's care center for her father late last year, as it is near her brother's home.

Before that, she had visited three other facilities. Two looked fancy and comfortable but rejected her father because they only took in healthy seniors, despite high charges, while the third, which was cheaper, was too shabby.

Besides, all three were far from the city.

She pays 11,000 yuan ($1,530) per month to the Hualu facility for her father's care, and all the services he receives make her feel the cost is worthwhile.

"My father has a better life in the center than he did in our home, and we see it every time we visit," Zang said.

"I hired two carers for him at home, but they were not as professional and patient as the caregivers in the center."

Li said the company has built a few community-based senior care centers in Beijing, and Jinan in Shandong province, each offering dozens of beds for dependent seniors.

Few companies in China are operating similar facilities, and the company hopes to build more facilities to form a chained brand.

Senior care is a heavy-asset business that needs huge investment in both assets and human resources but offers slow returns, and it is difficult to find suitable locations for senior care facilities with reasonable rents in cities, he said.

The silver lining is that the Chinese authorities attach great importance to improving access to good quality senior care, and an increasing number of local governments are running trials of public insurance programs for senior care, he added.

The company has been working with local governments across the country to build and operate senior care centers through public-private partnerships, and also plans to build nursing homes in areas such as the Yangtze River Delta region that provide medical services and life care to seniors seeking rehabilitation and chronic disease care, Li said.

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