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As Hong Kong residents have to pay out of their own pocket for medical care in the Mainland, those who require care or are by themselves are better off staying in an elderly home. Psyche Wai, the social service manager at Helping Hand who regularly visits the Zhaoqing home, says half of the residents there are unable to take care of themselves and some of them have Alzheimer’s disease.

The home has two in-house doctors and consultation fees are covered by the compulsory medical insurance residents are required to buy. A team of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers from Hong Kong also make frequent visits to the home.

However, Wai says residents still want to return to Hong Kong and stay in the Northern Hospital when they need emergency or further treatment. They refuse to go to mainland hospitals as they are worried about the quality of care. “The support is far better when you go to Hong Kong hospitals. You would be more confident and the fees are lower than in the Mainland,” she says. Although a direct ambulance service from Zhaoqing to Huanggang port in Shenzhen is available at extra charge, the trip takes four hours.

These concerns may explain why the uptake for places in the home remains low despite the facilities and range of services available. Walking slowly along a corridor, 78-year-old Mr. Lau (who does not want to disclose his full name), says he is desperate to go back to Hong Kong.

It is not because he does not have a good life in Zhaoqing — he spends his time planting tomatoes, reading poems and practicing calligraphy — but he is worried about his health. Doctors have told Lau he will be unable to walk someday due to an insufficient blood supply to the brain. He also suffers from prostate problems.

Lau has applied for a subsidised residential care place in Hong Kong. “The [Social Welfare Department] officer said if I am not permanently disabled, I have to wait for at least three years. Do I have to become a cripple so that I can live in an elderly home?” he asks.

For 81-year-old Ho Shun, proximity to Hong Kong, and to his family, was a major motivation to move from the Zhaoqing home to the other mainland facility for the Hong Kong elderly in Shenzhen, Society for Rehabilitation Yee Hong Heights in Yantian.

Living in Shenzhen makes it more convenient for Ho to attend his medical check-ups every 12 weeks in Hong Kong. It takes just 20 minutes to get from Yee Hong Heights to the Shatoujiao Port by shuttle bus.

For minor problems, Ho consults doctors in the Shenzhen centre. On the day of Varsity’s visit, he had just taken some flu medicine in the home’s clinic. However, Ho says he would prefer to go back to the Northern Hospital in Hong Kong if there were an emergency or any serious illness.

Being in Shenzhen also makes it easier for Ho to visit his family and buy any necessities in Hong Kong. “I can get home in about two hours,” says Ho, “When [my family] calls me to have a meal, I can just go back.”

Ho seems to be enjoying the best of both worlds, the space and facilities in the Shenzhen home and all the conveniences of nearby Hong Kong. But for 75-year-old Lee King-wan, it has taken time to get used to life in the Mainland.