Dark side of an aging society

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Dark side of an aging society

The fire in a nursing home in the southeastern port city of Pohang that killed 10 senior citizens and injured another 17 could well have been avoided if the fire alarm system had worked.

The fire broke out in a small office in the two-story building, yet 10 lives were lost because the victims were all in their 70s and 80s and incapable of moving unassisted.

All the victims died of suffocation. But they wouldn’t have if the fire alarm had rung and the fire station had been alerted immediately.

Under the Fire Services Act, any building that is bigger than 400 square meters (4,305 square feet) must be fully equipped with a fire alarm system.

The 396-square-meter nursing home fell slightly short of the requirement. Still, the nursing home, a shelter for elderly patients who were confined to their beds and too fragile to move without assistance, should have had fire protection, given its service function.

Such special-care services facilities should have fire sensor systems to alert fire stations automatically. It wouldn’t cost much, given our technology standards.

Senior citizens aged 65 years and above make up 11 percent of our total population. By 2018, the country will not be an aging society, but an aged one. By 2026, senior citizens will account for 20 percent of the population. Senior homes and facilities will naturally increase.

The number of nursing homes for the elderly across the nation quadrupled from 199 in 2005 to 755 five years later.

The number of nursing home beds surged from 24,171 to 83,324 in the same period and health care costs for elderly patients have reached 1.36 trillion won ($1.2 billion) a year. Those figures will likely shoot up in the future.

The fire at the nursing home represents the dark side of our aging society. The accident underscores the country’s underdeveloped welfare system for the elderly as it stumbles into uncharted waters.

The government must attend more scrupulously to welfare for the elderly in preparation for our aging society. It should first of all conduct extensive investigations into nursing homes and other facilities for senior citizens. It should also fix necessary regulations and laws right away, upgrading the facilities if necessary.

We once prided ourselves on being a society that respects the elderly.

Our actions should match our words because in the end, we all get old.
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