In March 2004, the Haishu District Government developed a policy to provide services for elderly people who live alone. Demographic analysis showed that persons 60 years of age or older accounted for more than 17 percent of the population and almost 50 percent of these people lived without children present to assist with their care. The government infrastructure and the social services system were unable to meet the increasing demand. Therefore, exploring a new way to support elderly people was at the top of the agenda for the government.
The government created "Purchasing Services for Senior Citizens at Home," to ameliorate the difficulties of older persons living alone. Rather than involving itself in the details of providing services to the elderly, the government supported creation of this program to manage daily operations. It secured cooperation with local civil organizations and subsidized them for performing functions that were previously carried out by government. It has been successful since inception as it is grounded in extensive social participation.
Services are now "purchased" by either individuals or enterprises. Many elderly do not pay at all; the services are "purchased" for them. The word "purchase" is used uniquely, as purchasing is often entirely subsidized by the government. Any qualified senior can receive one hour of services at government expense. Seniors who do not meet the requirements for services can still participate as many services are offered by volunteers. Those who can afford to purchase services may choose to buy additional services on their own. Additionally, an emergency telephone number "81890" is available for older people who live alone.
The Haishu District Government provides financial assistance to the Service Center for Senior Citizens, and as the service provider, the Center takes on the specific responsibilities of selecting qualified citizens, personalizing services, training staff, and supervising service delivery and quality. Since this program is carried out by non-profit organizations, the cost of service delivery has been reduced. Since adoption of this innovation, Haishu has reduced its allocation for seniors considerably. It currently allocates roughly one to two million Yuan (143,000 to 286,000 USD) to the program; while in the past the government paid thirty to forty million Yuan to institutions that supported the elderly. This reform not only diversified the ways of supporting elderly people, but has also improved the quality of senior services. The innovation has greatly promoted social harmony, fostered social participation, and strengthened of civil society.
The program offers a variety of services including recreational activities in the Center and care for the handicapped in community-based nursing homes. Most importantly, the program offers compassionate services to the elderly that are rooted in community involvement. This program has ensured that service personnel engage with the senior itizens' day-to-day life, while encouraging them to go outside of their homes and join in the activities held at the Center. In addition, the Center makes full use of social resources to promote and publicize available services.
As a way of identifying those who might benefit from services, the community usually submits a list of elderly people who would be eligible. It also recommends laid-off or unemployed workers to the Center so that they might be engaged as volunteers. These unemployed or laid-off workers can even obtain jobs in the Center. Additionally, people from all walks of life can work as volunteers.
As a result of these various features, social resources are effectively integrated and utilized and the program has widespread service coverage. Communities provide recreational rooms or facilities for the Center. As a result the infrastructure is flexible and expandable. An added benefit, of course, is that when service personnel live side by side with the elderly in their community, they can easily provide not only physical services, such as medical and health care, but also provide emotional care, which substantially raises the quality of services. Since adoption of this program in September 2004, services cover 64 communities in the District.
Most importantly, citizen participation has proven to be central to the success of the program. The incentive mechanism for volunteers, known as "contribute today, benefit tomorrow" encourages more citizens to get involved with the aging population. As a result of citizen participation, the Center is multifaceted and integrated in the community it serves.
This program continues to demonstrate a new direction for transforming government functions and building a service-oriented government. However, government still needs to determine how best to institutionalize the relationship between itself and non-profit organizations.