Mon, Apr 23, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: ‘Smart’ moves would improve long-term care: minister

In view of Taiwan quickly becoming a hyper-aged society, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporters Jennifer Huang and Wu Liang-yi said the medical industry has to make greater use of robotics and other ‘smart’ technologies to compensate for inevitable staff shortages in long-term care

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung speaks during an interview with the Liberty Times, the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper, in Taipei on April 11.

Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): With Taiwan soon to become a hyper-aged society, where 20 percent of the population are senior citizens, would falling tax income affect the financing of long-term care? Can the establishment of long-term care infrastructure keep up with the rate at which Taiwanese society is aging?

Chen Shih-chung (陳時中): The ministry’s projected promotion of the Long-term Care Service Program 2.0 over four years should not be affected, even with the decrease in tobacco tariffs, which should only be a short-term problem. If needed, public affairs funding could also be diverted as a quick fix.

At the current rate of aging, Taiwan will become a hyper-aged society within eight years, which is a much faster rate than many other nations. There is a pressing urgency to establish necessary infrastructure for long-term care — the greater the density of such facilities the better. Services should of course be tailored to fit local demands.

The ministry’s priority is on home care and community care. The government is to push long-term care 2.0 ahead of schedule to meet 70 to 80 percent of the program’s targets by the end of this year, bringing the timetable forward by one year from 2020 to next year. To meet the new schedule, we must double the rate of construction of all service facilities.

The greatest challenge lies in the inevitable shortage of long-term care personnel, especially eight years from now, when the elderly population would reach 20 percent of total population from the current 14 percent.

Double the current amount of personnel would be required to compensate for the increased elderly population; failure to do so would see deterioration of long-term care quality.

With retention of only one-third of all long-term care personnel trained per year — one-third retires and the remaining one-third leaves to seek other jobs — the goal of doubling the personnel pool will be difficult. Low wages and a lack of respect are the most oft-cited reasons for leaving the job.

To ameliorate these problems, the ministry is increasing wages of long-term care employees to NT$32,000, and is adjusting payment schemes and introducing robots to increase efficiency and mitigate the effects of employee shortages.

Using robots to sweep the floors, automatic bath machines to help expedite the washing and bathing of disabled people, and automated devices to remind patients to take their medicine would ensure that efficiency does not result in a general decline in quality of service.

Swapping the hourly payment scheme for a “fee for service” scheme would encourage long-term care employees to do more.

One-on-one homecare services would not be available to everyone, and communal care or daycare facilities offer the most efficient use of extant resources. As of last year, we have added 200 daycare services.

The ministry is focusing on ensuring and providing necessary services on a communal level and will be looking to provide institutionalized long-term care.

A hyper-aged society would need complete care for disease prevention, examination, medical care and long-term care.

The ministry hopes to address the source of disabled people by exhorting elderly people to participate in the Health Promotion Program for the Elderly.

As of 2015, Taiwan had 750,000 disabled people, a number that is estimated to grow to 1.2 million by 2031. With an aged society, we are hoping to see a lower ratio of disabled people.

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