Time to get serious about elderly care

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Time to get serious about elderly care


On weekends, suburban trains are filled with older passengers thanks to free passes for senior citizens. You can easily run into old couples not just on the trains, but on hiking trails, in scenic spots and markets. They might seem indifferent to each other, but it is obvious they have spent a long time together. I can’t help but see them with pleasure. However, even the couples with solid unions are stirred when one of them gets sick and requires assistance and care. It takes considerable patience and physical stamina to do bedpan duty for a patient and deal with the complaining.

There are caregivers, but not all seniors can afford them. In fact, when one of my family members was hospitalized, the patient-care expense was the biggest burden. A one-on-one caregiver charges 60,000 to 80,000 won ($54 to $72) per day, and a caregiver in charge of six patients charges 20,000 to 40,000 won. They request the fees be paid in cash every five days. Hiring a one-on-one caregiver for a month cost more than the hospitalization.

According to a survey by Korea University Professor Ahn Hyeong-sik’s team, the average hospitalization bill for a patient in 2009 was 2.3 million won, while the patient-care cost was 2.75 million won. A large part of the hospital bill is covered by health insurance, and the patient ends up paying only 115,600 won to 462,400 won. But patient-care costs are paid out of pocket.

Also, it was not easy to hire a proper care provider. When one of my family members was hospitalized, patient-care agencies had no one available. I had no friends or relatives that could help, and I had to work full-time. I could barely get in touch with a retired caregiver and hire her, but I still break out in a cold sweat just thinking about the ordeal. Also, just as in any kind of employment, it is not easy to hire someone who suits your preferences. Even a world-class health insurance system, the most prestigious hospital, money and love may not be enough to guarantee appropriate patient-care.

On Aug. 4, an old man made the drastic decision of killing his sick wife and then himself after having taken care of her for a long time. The tragedy seems to be occurring more often to remind us that such dire situations continue to exist somewhere. In modern society, elderly care has become a painful conundrum that even children and spouses cannot solve. As long as society does not solve the problem but forces individuals deal with it on their own, the tragedy is not likely to end.

The issue of elderly care issue has become a social challenge that can be a heavier burden on families than any illness. The average lifespan has increased, but policies and systems for seniors are lacking. Some hospitals have started providing complete care packages, bypassing the need for patient-hired care providers, but these are still in a trial period. We all grow old eventually, so we need to address the issue promptly. Rather than passing the burden to the family, we all want to get old in style and enjoy happy elderly years.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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