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2013年1月21日 (月)

高齢者施設火災 ずさん管理を戒める判決だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 21, 2013)
Ruling should serve as warning for better nursing care facilities
高齢者施設火災 ずさん管理を戒める判決だ(1月20日付・読売社説)

A court ruling handed down last week should be viewed as a warning against sloppy management at nursing care facilities for elderly people.

A fire in 2009 at Seiyo Home Tamayura nursing home in Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture, claimed the lives of 10 of its residents.

In Friday's ruling, the Maebashi District Court sentenced a former director of the facility to two years' imprisonment, suspended for four years, after finding him guilty of professional negligence resulting in death.

At the time of the blaze, only one caretaker was on duty, the ruling said. A number of combustibles, such as plastic containers of kerosene and cardboard boxes were left in the hallways of the facility, but no smoke detectors had been installed. The nursing home also had never conducted any emergency drills.

The court naturally condemned the nursing home for its poor management by failing to take necessary steps to ensure its residents' safety, a responsibility that the ruling said constitutes the basis of the facility's operation.

The facility was an unregistered nursing home. Single elderly people from Sumida Ward, Tokyo, were accommodated there through arrangements made by the ward government.


Acute shortage of facilities

As the ward government had elderly people taken care of by the unregistered nursing home without first conducting studies on how the facility was run, the authorities concerned should bear part of the responsibility for the tragedy.

Unfortunately, the Sumida Ward case is not unique.

Many other ward governments in Tokyo also have been arranging to have their elderly residents sent to nursing facilities outside the metropolitan area.

Of about 2,800 elderly people from Tokyo wards who are in nursing homes while receiving welfare benefits, about 70 percent have been living in facilities outside Tokyo.

Many nursing homes concerned are unregistered, and like Seiyo Home Tamayura their fees are far less expensive than registered facilities.

There are about 250 unregistered nursing facilities nationwide, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey.

This situation is a result of the acute shortage of nursing facilities in Tokyo and other big cities. High land prices in major urban centers make it difficult to secure plots of land to build new nursing homes.

To address this problem, the government has set up a subsidy system for building such facilities in urban areas, with the aim of increasing "low-cost homes for the aged." However, little progress has been made in this respect.


Exploit private sector

As long as elderly people are being sent to facilities outside Tokyo, it is imperative that ward governments ensure the safety of the residents by determining how the facilities are managed and carrying out regular safety checks.

Efforts should also be redoubled to devise plans to enable people in urban areas to continue to live in communities they are used to. Toward this end, new or remodeled housing units friendly to elderly people must be prepared, in addition to expanding in-home care services.

Making better use of private-sector capabilities is essential for these plans to move forward.

A notable example of such an initiative is a program by a government-authorized nonprofit organization to lease apartments as housing units to accommodate and provide proper nursing care to elderly people.

If vacant properties in urban areas are converted into facilities for the aging population, the costs involved would likely be much lower than constructing new nursing homes.

Cooperation between local governments and the private sector is key to taking on these tasks.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2013)
(2013年1月20日01時41分  読売新聞)


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