Top court puts nursing homes under spotlight

Updated: Feb 21, 2024 China Daily Print
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Judicial efforts highlight barrier-free environment to protect seniors' rights

Nursing homes will be held liable if injuries result from their failure to provide a barrier-free environment for old people, China's top court said.

The Supreme People's Court released details of six influential cases involving elderly care institutions on Tuesday, highlighting judicial efforts to protect the legitimate rights of seniors and promote the healthy development of the industry.

In one recent case, the family of an 82-year-old woman surnamed Ma sued a nursing care center in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in a local court, demanding compensation after she fell on her way to a bathroom at the center, resulting in fractures.

During the trial, the Chengdu court found the facilities at the center were not senior-friendly, as a manhole cover along the pathway to the restroom was significantly higher than the ground, which caused Ma to fall and also posed a safety hazard to others.

The court ruled in favor of Ma's family, citing the Civil Code, the fundamental law regulating civil activities, which noted that public service operators, such as hotels, airports, gyms and entertainment venues, should shoulder legal responsibilities if they fail to fulfill the duty of ensuring safety.

The facilitation of a barrier-free environment also needs to be combined with senior-friendly renovations in line with the law on construction of a barrier-free environment, following the principles of safety, convenience, ease of use and wide-ranging benefits, the court added.

While introducing the case to the public, the top court said: "It is essential for nursing homes to renovate and improve facilities to make them more accessible to seniors in consideration of their physical conditions. Safety hazards that may pose risks or obstacles to the elderly should be eliminated."

With a population of 1.41 billion, China is facing an increasingly serious aging issue. At the end of 2022, the country had more than 280 million people aged above 60, roughly 20 percent of the population. That was up from around 267 million at the end of 2021.

As the population ages, more nursing homes have been opened, with various services offered. However, due to inconsistent service standards and unclear rules, the management and development of such institutions is uneven, the top court said.

In another case, an elderly person surnamed Xiang paid over 30,000 yuan ($4,200) to a nursing home, but the institution, against Xiang's will, frequently changed the place of residence, moving Xiang from Chongqing to Yunnan province, and then to Sichuan.

As a result, Xiang returned to Chongqing, refusing to accept the services provided by the institution, and sued it in a grassroots court. After a trial, Xiang was given a refund of about 10,000 yuan.

Clarifying that residential care is a core issue for nursing homes, the top court used the case to call on them to ensure a suitable living environment and improve the quality of other services.

In addition to the courts, government agencies have also taken steps to optimize services for the elderly and protect their interests. For example, civil affairs departments have established more barrier-free facilities in more city-level residential communities and set up pension service majors at vocational schools.

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