China / Society

Care home nurse shortage challenges aging China

(Xinhua) Updated: 2016-08-23 15:39
SHIJIAZHUANG  -- In a nation that traditionally sees the family as the primary care giver, care homes for the elderly are in their infancy and face a litany of problems in China.

In a care home in Shijiazhuang, North China's Hebei province, it is common to see managers join nurses helping elderly residents move and bathe .

Established in 2013, the Zhongqiao Nursing Home has 260 beds but only 20 nurses. Most of them have retired from their jobs in manual labor and are too old to find jobs as nannies.

"We need young workers badly but could not find any during recruitment," said Shang Fuming, chairman of the nursing home.

In cooperation with a local hospital, the nursing home specializes in caring for the elderly who suffer from cerebrovascular diseases. Most are not able to take care of themselves.

While China is ramping up elderly care services, there are not enough nurses to care for the ever growing number of elderly people.

Decades of strict family planning policy and a longer life expectancy have left China in the midst of a demographic challenge, its elderly population growing fast.

There were more than 200 million people aged over 60 in 2015, accounting for over 16 percent of the total population. The number of people aged over 65 stands at 144 million.

To tackle the talent shortage, the Ministry of Education and eight other government departments issued a joint circular in July 2014, encouraging colleges to set up majors related to elderly care, including elderly health and nutrition, the psychology of aging, geriatric nursing and bioethics.

However, few of these graduates select major-based jobs.

Zhang Meng, 20, is a sophomore majoring in elderly service and management at Beijing Youth Politics College. She told Xinhua she would like to work in elderly services after graduation, but only wants to chat and organize activities and has no interest in looking after the bedridden.

Zhang Zhenqiang graduated in elderly service and management at Beijing Youth Politics College in 2013, but among his 30 classmates only three have jobs serving the elderly.

After graduating, Zhang and his schoolmates started a small nursing home in Cangzhou, Hebei Province, but it closed in early this year due to difficult market conditions.

"The academic knowledge we learned at college was disconnected from reality -- we had no spare energy to organize activities or address mental health needs, as simply accommodating them was exhausting," he said.

While many graduates shrug their shoulders at nursing jobs, nursing homes prefer workers without diplomas, as they are more experienced in nursing and demand lesser salaries.

Du Shuyun, head of Hengchun Nursing Home in Beijing's Chaoyang District, said they welcome student interns who have creative ideas, such as games or exercises, but when it come to recruitment they are more likely to get middle-aged former nannies.

"Graduates demand high salaries and better benefits, but they lack experience taking care of the elderly," she said.

Du said that as more investment is poured into the elderly care sector, growing competition will prompt nursing homes to upgrade services, and offer diversified and tailored services such as mental health care and physical therapy.

At a national meeting on health held in Beijing Friday through Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang said China will integrate the health industry with elderly care to eliminate structural barriers.

"The government should encourage nursing homes to innovate and upgrade their services, which will expand the career paths for elderly care talent of different specialties," Du said.
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