Most Tohoku nursing homes have resumed operations but many are understaffed

JIJI

Most of the 266 nursing homes for the elderly in the three Tohoku region prefectures hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami have resumed operations.

Their biggest challenge now is how to secure care staff. Manpower shortages have led some facilities to reduce the numbers of tenants they accept from the levels before the disaster.

As of Feb. 1, 252 disaster-affected nursing homes, or 95 percent of the total in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, had reopened.

The restarting ratio was low at around 70 percent in Fukushima, due to the impact of the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant, while restoration was almost complete in the other two prefectures.

In Iwate, all 34 disaster-hit facilities but one had resumed operations by the end of last March. The remaining one is to be shut down.

There are no longer restrictions on the number of tenants the reopened facilities receive. “We’re almost back to the situation before the disaster,” an Iwate prefectural official said.

In Miyagi, with 198 affected nursing homes, 196 had reopened, though some still operate in temporary facilities. Of the remaining two, one is scheduled to restart in fiscal 2017.

Fukushima saw 34 nursing homes hit by the disaster. Of them, 23 reopened, but six operate in temporarily buildings to which the facilities have evacuated.

In addition, it is uncertain when the five facilities inside the no-entry area around the crippled nuclear power plant will be able to restart business.

All three prefectures face difficulty in securing care staff, as many job seekers shun elderly nursing-care jobs, which are considered tough and low-paying.

The ratio of effective job openings for care workers to job seekers stood at 2.99 in January in Miyagi and Fukushima, more than double the all-industry average figures in the prefectures, and at 1.93 in Iwate, up from the prefecture’s average of 1.16.

The outflow of young people in the aftermath of the nuclear debacle has only added to the difficulty. In the Fukushima city of Minamisoma, 10 facilities reopened, but three of them cut the numbers of tenants they accept due to personnel shortages.

Minamisoma’s total population has slumped to 47,000 from 71,000. “Young women who played an important role in nursing care have not returned from evacuation,” a city official said.

The nursing home Kawauchi in the Fukushima village of Kawauchi, which newly opened in November 2015, is struggling to find workers, while the needs are high for nursing care as many residents returning to the village are elderly.

At the facility, 31 of the 75 tenants are residents who returned to the village after an evacuation order covering the eastern part of the village was mostly lifted in October 2014. The rest are evacuees from other areas around the nuclear plant or places affected by the tsunami.

The facility managed to secure 24 workers, while more than 30 people are applying to move into the facility. Especially at night, the facility has little spare manpower.

“Some people living outside the prefecture have declined to work here due to concern about radiation,” said Mitsuhiro Hayashi, head of the facility.

A recent Miyagi government survey on 107 nursing-care service providers, including home-based services, showed that to fill personnel shortages, they needed a total of 91 workers, more than half of whom were for nursing facilities. “The actual situation is even more serious as the figure does not include nurses,” a prefectural official said.

The city of Kesennuma and the town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture both set up councils together with welfare service operators in January to secure the necessary personnel.

The Fukushima Prefectural Government has launched a project to provide low-interest loans for people who choose to move to the prefecture to work at welfare facilities around the crippled nuclear plant. The loans will be forgiven if they work for the facilities for at least two years.

In the hopes of securing care workers, the governments of Iwate and Miyagi have also held seminars.