Features Vietnam Health

Vietnam facing nursing home shortage amid slow government support

17, May. 2019

Residents at Lotus Nursing Center set up by Japanese firm Tokyu Corp. in 2017 in Binh Duong province, southern Vietnam.
Residents at Lotus Nursing Center set up by Japanese firm Tokyu Corp. in 2017 in Binh Duong province, southern Vietnam.

By Nguyen Tuan Anh

HO CHI MIHN CITY, NNA – Vietnam is facing a deepening crisis in the availability of nursing home care as the population ages, with government financial support and private-sector investment slow to emerge.

The concept of institutional care for aging parents is still foreign to many Vietnamese, but more are recently turning to nursing home care and the trend is expected to accelerate.

About 10 percent of the population is 60 years or older and projected by the United Nations to reach 28 percent by 2050.

Professor Tran Van Tho at Waseda University in Tokyo said the golden age of Vietnam will end in the next decade as workers have to support the growing population of seniors.

Existing nursing home care is either private-sector funded, publicly funded, or supported by charities.

“The need for healthcare services for the aged will surely expand,” said Nguyen Tuan Ngoc, chief executive and founder of Thien Duc Aged Care Centre.

The private nursing home, which opened in 2001, is now in three locations with a combined area of 5.5 hectares (55,000 square meters) in the suburbs of Hanoi. The company plans to expand further around Hano, Vung Tau, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City with small facilities, each housing 20 to 30 seniors.

It is currently taking care of 352 seniors, using Japanese expertise and rehabilitation programs to keep residents active outdoors.

“Beside caring for their physical health, mental health is also important. Soft skills in nursing are essential,” Ngoc said.

Yoshiaki Kuragaito is general manager of Lotus Nursing Center. “All of our nursing staff have experience in hospitals, yet, they still need training in caring skills,” he said.

Lotus Nursing Center was set up by Japanese conglomerate Tokyu Corp. in 2017 in Binh Duong province, southern Vietnam. The 2,321-square meter site is home to 25 senior residents and 13 nursing staff earning an average of 15 million dong a month ($642). The company says it plans to take in up to 60 more seniors this year.

“We care more about the happiness of our elders, which requires patience and heart in our work. However, society has not viewed nursing in senior healthcare as an official job, which puts pressure on us,” said a nurse working at the center.

Lotus Nursing Center clients are mainly of two categories: their children work in other provinces and have little time to care for them, or they have returned to Vietnam from abroad where they saw how nursing homes operate.

Duong Xuan Dung, in her 90s, is at Lotus Nursing Center after living in the United States for 40 years. “I am happy with friends here. It is cold in America,” she said.

While nursing care for the aged has the potential to grow, government financial support has been limited, delaying private-sector investment.

Kuragaito said the cost of a 10-year land lease is high.

Ngoc at Thien Duc Aged Care said nursing homes are not yet fully accepted by the government as a social welfare business, so the cost is still high.

“The return [on investment] would take 7 to 15 years, depending on the size of the business, which is not much of an attraction for Vietnamese investors, who still view death as bringing bad fortune,” he said.

Companies are calling for government subsidies in land leasing and the creation of health insurance for seniors.

Ngoc said 90 percent of most residents’ nursing home costs are covered by their children and the remaining 10 percent is paid with retirement savings.

Kuragaito notes that most Japanese seniors pay nursing care costs themselves, using their savings and Japan’s health insurance and tax system.

Vietnam currently has 31 nursing homes and aims to have 64 more, 59 of them run by the private sector. The government is working toward having at least one facility in each province by 2025.

In 2016, after long discussions, the government finally waved the 10 percent value added tax for operators of nursing homes.

Ngoc said this suggests the government is beginning to recognize the social need for more privately run nursing homes.