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Gov't cost-cutting policy linked to rise in 'nursing care refugees'

The number of senior citizens on the waiting lists for entering special nursing homes has sharply declined apparently due to government measures to curb elderly care costs, while the number of elderly who are cast out of necessary nursing care is on the rise, it has been learned.

    While there had been 520,000 people who were waiting to be enrolled at special nursing homes for the elderly, the figure has drastically declined in many parts of the country, apparently because of the government's cost-cutting efforts such as raising the financial burden on nursing home users and restricting the use of such homes by those whose levels of necessary care are relatively lower.

    According to a Mainichi Shimbun survey on local governments that keep track of the number of elderly people waiting to be enrolled at special nursing homes, between around 2013 and 2016, the figures dropped by 42 percent in Saitama Prefecture, 30 percent in Kitakyushu, 27 percent in Kobe, 16 percent in Yokohama, 13 percent in the city of Okayama, 11 percent each in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Himeji and the Kagawa Prefecture capital of Takamatsu, 9 percent in the city of Hiroshima and 5 percent in Nagasaki Prefecture. The figure in Tokyo also dropped slightly below 20 percent.

    In the meantime, those whose level of care needed is low but suffer from such symptoms as wandering about are left outside of nursing care, prompting nursing home officials to point out that the number of "nursing care refugees" is actually on the rise.

    As the operators of special nursing homes can receive public funds for the construction of such facilities and the homes are therefore regarded as of a highly public nature, they prioritize accommodating low-income earners and those without relatives over other applicants. Because there are so many applicants for such facilities, it is common for applicants to have to wait for several years before enrollment.

    According to a survey by the Tokyoto Koreisha Fukushi Shisetsu Kyogikai (Tokyo council of welfare facilities for the elderly), which comprises special nursing homes, the average number of seniors who are waiting to be accepted into special nursing homes plunged by 17.7 percent per facility in 2015 compared to 2013 -- the first such decline to have been revealed in Tokyo. The survey covered 457 nursing homes between January and February, of which 242 facilities responded.

    The aforementioned council attributed the cause of such declines to: elderly people whose required care level is 1 or 2 became basically unable to be accepted into special nursing homes from April 2015; the number of paid nursing homes and serviced housing complexes for the elderly has shot up; and the self-pay burdens on users of special nursing homes increased.

    "Those whose level of care needed has been judged to be low but who actually require a great deal of care now have nowhere to go," said council chairman Osamu Nishioka.

    A 60-year-old woman in the Chubu region takes care of her 84-year-old mother with dementia. Because her mother was judged to be in need of level 2 care, however, there is no prospect of her mother being accommodated into any special nursing home. She laments about the current welfare situation, saying, "Where can I have my mom accepted?" -- as her mother can't do any household chores and can't be left home alone.

    An official at the Division of the Support for the Elderly at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare explains, "The reason why we have decided to prioritize (accommodating) those whose levels of care required are 3 or upper is because we wanted the limited resources to be spent upon people who really need nursing care."

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