The quality of residential care homes for the elderly in Hong Kong various. In general, the society has a negative impression of residential care homes for the elderly. However, homes operated with caring hearts do exist, we encounter with Ms. Chau Tsang (Rebecca), the chairman of Cedar Seeds Foundation, an angel on earth who walk alongside with the elderlies in their later years, striving for her mission and value, to care for the aged with respect andcaring heart. The negative perception of the society towards care homes mostly due to misunderstanding of this industry and the operation of the homes is always a “mystery”. Chau is willing to bare her heart, to talk about the challenges of the industry and to unveil the mystery of residential care homes. To voice out for the industry, hoping to change the image of residential care home. “We deserve respect too!”.
Chapter 1: Partition too low, higher risk of infective disease outbreak and making the privacy protection harder; Higher partition, affecting fresh air circulation and Glazing area.
In 2020, the Coronavirus epidemic struck, Hong Kong’s residential care homes for the elderly were severely affected, especially during the third wave. 102 elderly people in residential care homes were infected, and 30 of them died. Some media filmed the indoor condition of aged homes, it was found that the beds were separated by partitions about 1.2 meters in heigh. Some infectious disease experts pinpointed the living environment of the elderly is dense and the partitions were too low which might allow the virus spread easily. On the other hand, other expertise believes that there would not have sufficient glazing and ventilation if the partitions are too tall. Which statement is correct? Does the government have any regulations?
Rebecca Chau, chairman of the Cedar SeedsFoundation, said that the current government has “unpublished” general guideline on residential care facilities partition height which is 1.2 meters, plus a maximum of 0.3 meters of transparent glass can beinstalled. It is understood that this requirement is to maintain indoor fresh air circulation and sufficient natural lighting. However, Chau said 1.8 meters height with an opening in between once was allowed. Since 2015 the relevant guidelines have been changed to 1.2 meters plus 0.3 meters transparent glass. Many operators of residential care homes do not understand the reason of this sudden change. “It is because any renovation layout change and licensing application for an aged care home need to involve few government departments, the process is complicated, time consuming. We must go through lots of obsoletes. Most Private home operators followwhatever the government require to get a license as soon as possible, they would not bother to ask why. “Chau said.
As Chau recently are setting up couple of new residential care facilities, she has to revisit the partition height issue. “I tried to check the relevant ordinance, but I couldn’t find the provisions relatingto the height of the partition. She tried to find out from the social welfare department, the answer she received was: “Although there is no statutory requirement of 1.2 meter on partition, it is our internal guideline.”
What is exactly lay down in the internal guidelines? Who are the persons to determine the guidelines? Have these guidelines being discussed andcommunicated with other government departments? Are those guidelines practical in actual operation in the aged care homes? Chau said: “I looked into building ordinance and found the regulations on prescription window which should be 1 meter above floor level on all habitable buildings. There is no requirement set on height of the partition board. I do not understand why 1.2 meters is applied to theheight of the partition board. The confusion causes lot of issues we do not know the final decision after going through few rounds of conversation with the department.
We encounter all sort of different issues when comes to actual operation too. Individual inspector has different interpretation on the partition height. Some experienced inspectors allow higher partition as long as the operator meets calculation requirement on glazing area and ventilation. Although the department reserve the right to review case by case depending on the facility actual environment, to make things easier, most of the operator will choose the 1.2 meters option in order to shorten the design and renovation time.
Chau believes that if 1.8 meters high partition height is allowed, it can help to prevent spreading of certain virus and bacteria, it also helps protecting privacy of the elderlies. “Infectious diseases are increasing in recent years. We should not merely take ventilation and natural lighting into consideration. It is important to take the infection control and privacy issues seriously when elderlies are living in a group environment while it is impossible to set up too many isolation rooms”.
To balance concerns from all parties, the one of the options is to install fire-resistant curtains on the partition, which can be used during nursing care.