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[Op-Ed] Elderly Group Home

Posted February. 17, 2009 04:52,   


In 2006, the newly elected mayor of Gimje, North Jeolla Province, initiated a pilot elderly group home project offering a free state–sponsored nursing facility for elderly living alone. Mayor Lee Geon-shik pledged the program in his campaign as he realized the grim reality facing senior citizens living in the rural countryside. Witnessing them struggling first-hand to live without heating in winter, he made the project one of his key campaign promises. Since its first operation, the number of the facilities has grown to 57 this year, with some 600 elderly people in the region. The city plans to set up 19 more such homes for the elderly this year.

“With a steady increase in the demand for welfare facilities, we are facing difficulty in securing the budget,” Lee said. The construction of one such facility costs about 57 million won (39,900 U.S. dollars), including devices and equipment. Remodeling a town hall for the elderly cuts the cost to 15 million won (10,500 dollars), and Gimje provides three million won (2,100 dollars) to each facility for heating and other operational costs every year. Neighborhood residents offer meals. The elderly who live in the facility say they don’t feel lonely and deserted since they have a lot of company of a similar age and situation. The home has separate facilities for men and women.

Gimje official Jeong Hyeon-mi said a customized healthcare service was introduced with the project in association with public health centers and civic organizations. With the success of the group home in the city, more cities and provinces have begun to offer similar programs across the country. It is not easy, however, to create an integrated welfare model for the elderly on the national level given the differences in provinces. Due to differences in personal inclination, some could find it hard to live together and get along with others in the facility. Equally challenging is applying this model to urban areas with different living environments. Nevertheless, provincial adjustments to accommodate the Gimje model in other provinces can eventually create a comprehensive welfare system for the elderly.

A private operator of a group home in Seocheon, South Chungcheong Province, has complained of hefty regulations but little government support for private social welfare facilities. The government and provincial authorities do offer financial aid, including construction costs, to corporate welfare facilities. The private sector is having a hard time in building such facilities, however, due to a lack of low-interest and start-up bank loans. The government should help build more welfare facilities for senior citizens, allowing them universal access to low-interest loans.

Editorial Writer Hong Kwon-hee (konihong@donga.com)