At least 15,000 elderly people were living in unauthorized nursing homes across Japan in fiscal 2015, a Kyodo News survey has found.
According to the survey of local governments, many of the facilities fell short of state standards on room size or fire equipment, but provide accommodations for low-income or elderly people without relatives at prices lower than authorized facilities.
Authorized care homes usually charge ¥200,000 to ¥300,000 a month in addition to admission fees.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in late April that there were 1,650 such unauthorized facilities in fiscal 2015. The survey said the number was 1,627 after related municipalities made corrections.
The facilities have a combined capacity of 22,741, and the figures provided by the municipalities confirmed that at least 15,209 were living in those facilities. The total is likely higher, however, because some municipalities said they do not have the relevant data.
Facilities providing meals, nursing care or health management services to seniors are obliged to report to their local governments under the Act on Social Welfare for the Elderly.
While the widespread use of unauthorized nursing facilities means socially and economically challenged patients could end up in poor living conditions, it is also true these places are a last resort for those with nowhere to go.
A two-story house in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward is an unauthorized nursing home called Nishimizue no Mori that houses five elderly men and women who are in need of various kinds of 24-hour nursing care.
“I feel at home and free here. I don’t want to move to another facility,” said Fumiko Yaguchi, 87, who has been living there for about eight years.
Yaguchi had been living alone in a public housing unit in Sumida Ward but was forced out for failing to pay rent. She moved into the Edogawa facility after being referred there by the Sumida Ward Office.
The facility is populated by elderly people with low income or no relatives because the fee is much cheaper than at authorized facilities. But it does not meet government standards, with corridors that are too narrow and a lack of sprinklers, though it does has fire alarms.
“If we close down a place like this just because it’s not meeting the requirements, people would die miserably,” said Yoneji Ui, 67, director of the operator of the facility.
In the meantime, there is a high risk of similar businesses targeting the poor to benefit from nursing insurance claims. Many reports of abuse and other problems continue to arise even after a fire caused by negligence killed 10 residents at the Tamayura nursing home in Gunma Prefecture in 2009.
To get such businesses to register, the welfare ministry eased guidelines in July and asked local governments to greenlight facilities that in fact do provide nursing care services, even if they do not meet state standards in all aspects.
Some municipalities depend on unauthorized nursing homes when authorized facilities become full. It also takes time to track down suspicious facilities and ask them to apply for registration.
“We will find more unauthorized facilities if we dig deeper, but we can’t deal with all of them,” an official of one prefecture in the Kanto region said. “We are short-staffed, and there is a limit to what we can do.”