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Under the current system, an elderly person may receive up to HK$5,800 a month based on a medical assessment, which can be used to pay the monthly fee for a private home. This means the recipient can only purchase services of up to HK$5,800.

Explaining the flaws in the system, Chan says, “An elderly person cannot choose the $7,000 service plan of better quality by taking a $5,000 subsidy from the government and paying the remaining $2,000 by himself (or his family). Otherwise, the government will reduce the amount he can get to $3,000 because the elderly person can afford $2,000 more.”

Eighty per cent of the elderly who lives in care homes are claiming CSSA payments. It restricts them their choice of home and, at the same time, it increases the burden private homes for the elderly because their income is limited but their expenses depend on changing factors such as rent, the cost of utilities and wages.

In his Policy Address last month, Chief Executive Donald Tsang proposed an extra supplement for the elderly living in private homes “to ease their financial burden”.

The Elderly Services Association’s Kenneth Chan describes provisions in the Policy Address as a breakthrough because the government acknowledged there was a problem with the system for the first time.
However, he is disappointed that subsequent reports show the government is proposing the supplement should be HK$250. “How did they calculate this? They are not addressing the real problem,” says Chan.

Chan points out that the real cost of providing a place at a public-subsidized home is HK$15,000 a month. Yet private elderly homes are expected to provide services for around HK$6,000, including the new supplement.

“What do they expect a private company to provide for that price?” asks Chan.
Behind the headlines of real neglect and abuse at some private homes there are frontline carers working in challenging conditions and with few resources.

For Peter Chan Chi Kai, 19, whose grandmother is living at a private home, the negative perception of care homes is unfair. At his grandmother’s home, he says, “The staff really know the patients well. I can tell they are not faking it . . .I feel comfortable having them taking care of my grandmother.”

The answer to the elderly care problem lies not in just recruiting and keeping staff such as those Peter Chan admires, it also involves devising comprehensive policies to ensure a dignified life for Hong Kong’s increasing number of senior citizens.