Japan Health Ministry Council to Advise Care Facilities to Take Steps to Better Respond to COVID-19, Disasters

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Tokyo

An advisory council to the health, labor and welfare minister calls for nursing care service providers to enact measures to strengthen their ability to respond to infectious diseases and disasters, according to a draft report regarding a fiscal 2021 revision of nursing care fees paid to the providers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun obtained full details of the Social Security Council’s draft report, which calls on nursing care service providers to create business continuity plans and conduct drills in case of emergencies. It also includes a call for taking measures to alleviate the impact of revenue falls for the providers struggling with the elderly refraining from using their services amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The draft report is expected to be presented at a meeting of the council’s subcommittee on Wednesday.

In principle, nursing care fees paid to service providers are revised every three years. Based on discussions among experts and other members of the subcommittee, the government decides on fee revisions for each type of service, such as home care and day care.

The focus for the fiscal 2021 revision is likely to be on how to improve daily preparedness in nursing care facilities that are a gathering spot for elderly people, who are prone to become seriously ill if infected with the novel coronavirus as well as difficult to evacuate in the event of a disaster.

In the draft report, priority has been placed on “establishing a system in which necessary services will be provided to users in a stable and continuous manner, even in the outbreak of an infectious disease or a disaster.”

The draft report seeks to oblige service providers to draw up business continuity plans and conduct drills based on the assumption that their service users have contracted the virus or have been in close contact with people infected. A three-year transitional period will be set for these purposes.

Efforts to encourage local residents to participate in such drills so that cooperation with the community can be facilitated in case a disaster occurs are also being urged.

The draft report also calls for new support measures to prevent nursing care service providers from shutting their business after suffering a sharp drop in users due to infectious diseases and disasters.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 81.7% of day care facilities surveyed saw elderly people refrain from using their services out of concerns mainly over the virus. In light of this, the introduction of measures to curb revenue falls has been called for to support struggling day care facilities.

Nursing care fees paid to service providers are determined based on the number of users and the scale of the facility. As operational costs are incurred regardless of the number of users, the draft report calls for a mechanism to limit the decrease in nursing care fees paid to service providers if the number of users rapidly drops in unavoidable circumstances, such as the outbreak of an infectious disease.

The council has also proposed in the draft report a measure to relax staffing criteria during the night if sensors and other high-tech devices are introduced to monitor the elderly users of the facilities. Making various procedures more effective will be another aim to ease the burden on facility staff.

Based on the draft report, the ministry intends to decide on the rate revision for nursing care fees by the end of this year in coordination with the Finance Ministry.