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Editorial: Gov’t efforts crucial in avoiding senior care collapse in Japan amid pandemic

  • May 13, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

A string of group infections of the novel coronavirus have been reported from facilities for older people amid the outbreak in Japan. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, of 250 cases of cluster infections reported nationwide, 40 occurred at centers for older adults. It’s the second highest figure after the 85 group infection cases reported at medical institutions.

 

When an older person contracts the novel coronavirus, they are at high risk of developing severe symptoms. In the Mainichi Shimbun’s April 14 tally, nearly 20% of COVID-19 deaths in Japan occurred among users of facilities for older adults. In some parts of Europe, around half of their respective death tolls have come from institutions for older people.

 

Care services for older people, including the types where care providers come to the users’ homes and facilities where older people visit regularly, have supported the everyday lives and health of older adults.

 

Carers not only help older adults eat and take baths, but also provide physical rehabilitation assistance such as walking training while supporting them side by side, meaning that caregivers face risks of infection. Those with dementia could take their face masks off themselves or wander around inside the care facility, putting them at higher risk of contracting the virus.

 

The spread of the virus poses a risk of the collapse of care services in which assistance crucial for older adults is no longer available. However, support measures from the central and local governments are not reaching such facilities adequately.

 

Unions are demanding that care workers get paid special bonuses. While the central government plans to subsidize operators that pay their workers bonuses, the subsidy only applies if a care facility user becomes infected with the coronavirus. The state should consider expanding the subsidy program.

 

Some care providers that do not have older adults living in their facilities have chosen to limit their services to bathing assistance and other basic care to prevent infections. The welfare ministry has implemented a special measure so that workers would not see smaller paychecks due to workload cuts, but care business operators are tight on resources.

 

If fewer users came to such care facilities as they cut back on operating hours amid the outbreak, it would lead to reduced revenues. Care centers require attention so that they will not be driven out of business.

 

Care facilities for older adults had already been facing chronic human resource shortages. Some care workers are reportedly taking time off due to the outbreak. The care service industry would not survive if more caregivers leave their jobs because of increased workloads on workers. The central and local governments should move forward with plans to secure human resources such as encouraging retired care workers to return to the field.

 

With regard to masks and disinfectants that are now hard to come by, shouldn’t there be a system in which the central government provides care facilities with such necessities as it does for medical institutions?

 

When an infection is confirmed in a care home, the operator has no choice but to monitor the patient until they are admitted to a hospital, but care workers are not experts in infectious diseases. We ask that local governments work out support measures, such as providing homes for older adults and their workers with anti-infection manuals and advice.

 

Care services for older people are foundations supporting an aging society. The state and local government bodies need to put full efforts into protecting care service institutions.

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