A growing number of adult day care services are suspending their operations in response to the new coronavirus outbreak.
Many of them are small-scale businesses offering daytime care programs for the elderly including meal and bath services and short-term stays.
It is said that older people tend to develop serious conditions when they become infected with the new coronavirus. It goes without saying that protecting human lives is more important than anything else.
But some users of these facilities may be unable to maintain their quality of life without the services. There are legitimate concerns that such elderly people could become isolated at home and suffer rapid declines in their physical and mental health.
The government needs to provide the maximum possible policy support to help these facilities continue offering vital adult day care services while preventing infections.
A total of 909 providers of adult day care services across Japan suspended their operations in the week around April 16, when the state of emergency was expanded nationwide, up 70 percent from the previous week, according to the health ministry. Most took the step voluntarily instead of in response to a request from their local governments.
Facilities providing residential nursing care services, such as homes for elderly people requiring special care, started taking measures to protect residents and staffs much earlier, such as restricting visits by residents’ families and other outside people.
But there have been reported cases of infection with the coronavirus even within such facilities.
Adult day care facilities are clearly facing greater risks of infection because of more frequent human traffic in and out of them.
Some such day care facilities have taken special social distancing measures to avoid creating a so-called “sanmitsu” situation, where many people come in close contact with each other in a closed environment. The government has warned that this situation is a perfect setting for virus transmission.
These day care facilities have, for example, limited their operational hours, the number of users they deal with and the scope of operations for bath services.
It is hoped that these facilities can continue providing particularly important services while controlling the risk of infection.
The health ministry has promised to pay remuneration for certain services that adult day care facilities are not usually allowed to provide, such as staff visits to users’ homes and phone calls to check users’ health conditions, when these facilities find it difficult to provide their usual day care services.
Adult day care service providers should consider resorting to such special policy measures as well as cooperation with other facilities in the same community to compensate for restrictions on their ordinary operations with alternative services.
The closures and limited operations of many adult day care facilities have increased the burden on home care workers.
It is generally difficult for private residents visited by home care workers to take strict anti-virus measures like those adopted by adult day care facilities. But most home care services are also suffering from shortages of such necessary protective supplies as masks and disinfectants. The situation demands a swift policy response.
The nursing care service industry is facing a chronic and serious labor shortage. The home care service segment has been hit the hardest by the problem because of relatively smaller remuneration for services from the government, which has kept pay for home care workers low.
Many home care workers, known as “home helpers” in Japan, are working with fears about the possibility that they may contract and pass the virus on.
The government has decided to increase remuneration for medical treatment of COVID-19 patients provided by medical institutions. It should take a similar step for care workers as well.
Home nursing care and health care services that help vulnerable elderly people maintain their quality of life and avoid developing serious conditions are also vital for protecting the local medical system.