“I wonder if I could ask you to change my diaper?”
The senior citizen home staff member to whom that plaintive request was addressed did not reply. He lowered his eyes. The elderly resident who had approached him sighed and withdrew. He might have insisted, but thought better of it. When the home, located in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, declared bankruptcy last December, he’d feared the worst. It would close down; he’d be on the street with nowhere to go. Relieved to be spared that fate when another operator took over the facility, he resigned himself to a decline in service. Staff had to be cut, money saved, individual attention curtailed.
Bankruptcy besets the care industry, reports Shukan Gendai (April 13). Beware, it warns current and prospective residents. The problem will get worse before it gets better.
2019 is year one of a new era. 2020 will bring the Tokyo Olympics. But the year to watch for something to dread, not celebrate, is 2025, when the youngest baby-boomers turn 75. How will the nation cope with its swelling population of “old old” people?
It’s grave enough now. Care facilities, live-in and non-live-in, are going bankrupt at an unprecedented rate, Shukan Gendai finds. The past three consecutive years – 2016, 2017 and 2018 – have each seen more than 100 bankruptcies (108, 111 and 106 respectively) – roughly twice the number registered by 2013 and 2014 (54 each).
A former staffer at the Oiso facility tells the magazine what this means on the floor: “We had orders from the top: Don’t change diapers so often, it’s a waste. Staff was cut to a bare minimum.” Baths were reduced from three a week to one. She herself, a 10-year veteran, quit, along with other experienced staff members. Those who remained were generally less experienced and less well trained. “And there’s no time or money to train them,” she says.
Aging people who sell their homes for the relief of settling into a care facility had better think twice, Shukan Gendai warns. But the question arises: Why, given the swelling demand, should the businesses that meet it be going bankrupt? Certain peculiarities of the industry help explain it.
“The key is the occupancy rate,” the magazine says. “A senior citizen facility must have an 80-percent occupancy rate to break even. Above 80 percent, you’re turning a profit. Below, you’re in the red."
The Oiso facility was 76 percent full. Others operated by the same management company were down to 70 percent. Again: Why should that be, given the demand? The answer is two-fold: too many facilities, too few workers. It’s arduous work, and poorly-paid. Why doesn’t demand drive up wages? Because employers feel pressed to reduce, not expand, overhead.
Longevity brings with it many problems along with its obvious benefit. Among them is the threat it poses to the profitability of care facilities. Profitability hinges much more on the steep one-time admission fee than on monthly “rent.” The longer a resident lives, the fewer new admissions there is room for. This issue will grow more acute as longevity expands – as presumably it will continue to do long past the year 2042, when Japan’s “old old” population will peak and begin to fall.
“Kimiko Kudo” (a pseudonym) is 85. After her husband died, she sold their house to live in a care facility. That made life easier. It gave her company, and help with the basic issues of daily life that she could no longer cope with on her own. Her relief was short-lived. Within a year the facility went bankrupt. She had a month to find a new place, failing which she’d be homeless. She found one, and avoided the worst-case scenario. As for the 7 million yen she’d paid to be admitted to the first facility, she is resigned to never seeing it again.© Japan Today