Government should take responsibility to prevent recurrence

There has been a series of fatal accidents at nursing homes across the nation. It is vital for the national government to ascertain the overall situation and put forth appropriate preventive measures.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reviewed fatal accidents that occurred at special nursing homes for the elderly and other facilities in 106 municipalities across the nation, and found that 1,159 people died in the accidents in fiscal 2021.

The most common cause of death was aspiration, in which food entered the trachea while a person was being helped to eat, accounting for 60% of the total. A conspicuous number of deaths also resulted from stumbles and falls.

Elderly people do have reduced physical and mental abilities, but this many fatal accidents occurring in care facilities cannot be dismissed.

When asked about the background and factors behind the accidents, the most common response from local governments was oversights due to insufficient manpower, followed by more users requiring high levels of nursing care.

The shortage of human resources in nursing care has long been pointed out. Nursing care staffers perform a wide range of tasks, such as assisting with meals and bathing, and helping people relieve themselves. Caregivers are viewed by many as being underpaid for the heavy physical and mental burden they bear. There is no end to the number of people leaving the workforce.

In February, the government established a subsidy system for elderly care facilities with the aim of raising the wage of nursing care staffers by ¥9,000 per month. This system must be utilized to steadily improve the treatment of nursing care givers.

To make effective use of limited human resources, the introduction of nursing care robots and the use of information and communication technology, as well as the acceptance of foreign personnel, must be promoted.

It is also important to enhance training for staff to improve the quality of care.

In 2018, the government surveyed municipalities throughout the nation about accidents at nursing care facilities. It found differences in the types of accidents that have to be reported by facilities to municipalities, and in the forms used to report them.

In response, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry notified municipalities last year that, in principle, all accidents in which a physician treated a patient at an elderly care facility must be reported, in addition to fatal accidents. It also established a form for the reports to be submitted to municipalities by the facilities.

Municipalities are responsible for various tasks in the nursing care field, such as formulating plans for the development of facilities for the future elderly population, calculating nursing care insurance premiums for those aged 65 and over, and certifying elderly people who require nursing care.

The government should take responsibility for preventing the recurrence of serious accidents. It should carefully analyze the causes of such accidents and present specific measures to municipalities.

Some facilities are using small spoons for assisted eating to prevent aspiration, and some are laying mats on the floor to soften the impact of falls. Such examples must be collected and shared with other facilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 23, 2022)