As the elderly population in Tokyo booms, waitlists for nursing homes are becoming exceedingly long. There has been a scramble for free beds in these facilities, and yet the nursing homes in the city are starting to cut back. The problem is an extreme shortage of workers for these homes and impending cuts in government aid.
Growing Problem in Tokyo
In the city’s northern Adachi ward, as many as 4,000 elderly residents are on a waitlist to get into a nursing home. There is a nursing home in the ward with thirty percent of their beds available, but no one is allowed to use them because the facility is too short staffed. This problem is not restricted simply to a couple of wards in Tokyo.
Right now, over one quarter of Japan’s total population is older than 65, and Tokyo is expected to have the biggest rise in elderly residents of any city in the nation. However, two decades of deflation in the country’s economy and rising debt is forcing Japan’s legislators to cut budgeting for its nation’s nursing homes.
The nursing homes in Tokyo were started by land owners and are run as family businesses. Japan has unique care coverage for its elderly; long-term care is only paid about ten percent out of pocket with the rest subsidized by the government. Unfortunately, facilities that are eligible for aid from the government have prices that cannot be raised. These nursing homes also cannot close down without government approval, even if the facility is losing money.
Less Aid for Homes
The Japanese government is set to reduce reimbursements for long-term care by a little over two percent in April. Japan’s cost to care for the elderly is expected to more than double to 19.8 trillion yen ($167 billion) in 2025 from 2012, with the government covering around half. In an effort to retain staff for its homes, the Japan health ministry has said that it will pay an extra 12,000 yen per month per worker for wages and will pay an even higher premium to facilities that hire workers with additional qualifications.
However, the shortage of spots in nursing homes has also put additional pressure on working children to care for their ailing parents. “Many families in cities don’t have the capacity to care for the elderly at home,” said Masahide Tanaka, chairman of general affairs at the Tokyo Council of Social Welfare. “It will add burden to family members and may lead to a rise in people exiting from the workforce to care for the elderly at home, elderly abuse and neglect.”
Studies have shown that about 490,000 Japanese workers quit or changed jobs in order to care for older relatives between 2007 and 2012. By the year 2025, Japan will need 2.5 million caregivers for its elderly and the country’s health ministry forecasts that it will be short 300,000 workers by then. Some government officials are hoping that the cuts will force smaller nursing homes to merge and operate more efficiently, and eventually raise salaries to attract workers.