April 15, 2011

JAPAN: Many elderly in quake-stricken areas in need of nursing care

OSAKA / The Mainichi Daily News / National News / April 15, 2011

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed scores of nursing homes along the Pacific coast in northeastern Japan, forcing thousands of elderly people to lose access to much needed care.
The Mainichi found that across 12 municipalities in Iwate Prefecture along the Pacific coast at least 30 non-institutional nursing facilities for the elderly were completely destroyed by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami. According to the Miyagi Prefectural Government, 291 nursing facilities in the prefecture were damaged or at least slightly damaged. The two prefectural governments are scrambling to get the full picture of the situation, which could break the support foundation in regions where the population is rapidly ageing, and force elderly people out of the reach of nursing care.

A man pushes an elderly man in a wheelchair from an evacuation center to a taxi in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture. (Mainichi)

In municipalities in the two prefectures, there are about 74,000 elderly people who need nursing care or support. Many elderly people who need nursing support are staying at makeshift evacuation shelters. Of the 12 municipalities in Iwate Prefecture, 11 of them have had home-nursing service facilities damaged. In Yamada in particular, six out of 14 facilities for home nursing, home-visit nursing and outpatient nursing were completely destroyed. In Kamaishi, Rikuzentakata and Otsuchi, about 30 to 40 percent of facilities have suspended their operations since the natural calamity.

In Rikuzentakata, two care managers are unaccounted for. There are several municipalities where the natural calamity affected care managers and care helpers who are supposed to support elderly people in need of nursing care.

Of the 697 facilities in the 15 municipalities on the Pacific coast which responded to a survey conducted by the Miyagi Prefectural Government, 291 of them said they were heavily damaged or damaged in some way. According to the prefectural government, about 10 to 20 percent of facilities in Miyagi are not functioning at all.

Officials of the two prefectural governments said, "If those who need nursing care stay at evacuation centers for an extended period of time, they cannot do exercises for rehabilitation and their conditions will deteriorate. We want to come to grips with the real situation and take necessary steps quickly so that we will be able to restore proper services."

Yasuhiro Yuki, associate professor at Shukutoku University, said, "The makeshift nursing care provided at evacuation centers is gradually reaching its limits about one month after the earthquake. Because nursing facilities in extended areas suffered major damage, there is an urgent need to build temporary nursing facilities. In the long run, it is important for the government to secure medical and nursing services. In order to secure funds for reconstruction such things as fees for nursing could be cut. The number of human resources coming into the affected areas is likely to drop gradually. The nursing industry must be restored and human resources must be secured