National / Social Issues | Regional voices: Chubu

Few foreign residents aware of public nursing care plan but more expected to tap it as Japan grays

Chunichi Shimbun

The number of foreign people living and retiring in Japan is expected to increase following the overhaul of the nation’s immigration control law in April, which will introduce new types of working visas.

However, only a small number of these residents appear fully aware of the fact they can benefit from the public nursing care insurance program once they turn 65.

As complicated procedures and language barriers hinder use of the program by many foreign residents, those here working as nursing care workers or interpreters are helping their peers at the Homi Danchi apartment complex in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, where over half of the residents are foreign, obtain proper care.

Katherine Namisato, 42, a Peruvian of Japanese descent employed as a nursing care worker at home-visit nursing agency Care Center Homi in Toyota, took care of her mother at home for about five years until she died in April last year at the age of 80.

Her father, 74, had mainly taken care of her mother, who suffered from liver cancer and back pain. But since her mom had been certified as level 3 under the nursing care insurance program, which requires round-the-clock care, the family also received home visits from care workers every day on weekdays and was able to get her taken to a nursing care facility about three days a week.

“While my mother was at the nursing care facility, my father could relax and was able to avoid being stressed out,” Namisato said, adding the services helped save her job. “I don’t know how we could have managed without the services.”

According to the Justice Ministry, foreign residents hit a record high of 2.64 million in June last year, with those 65 or older rising to 172,000, or about 6 percent of the total.

Foreign people are eligible for nursing care if they are registered residents, have lived in Japan for three months or more, paid their insurance premiums and are certified as needing long-term care. But not everyone is aware of the system.

Aichi Prefecture — which has the nation’s second-largest population of non-Japanese — conducted a survey on foreign residents in fiscal 2016 that found only 15 percent of the 2,603 respondents were aware of the program and only 8 percent were enrolled.

“Some of the people who are staying for work purposes may not care much about pensions or nursing care insurance,” said a prefectural official in charge of the program. “We hope to create multilingual pamphlets on the program to be handed out at counters in city or town offices.”

Care Center Homi is making efforts to inform foreign residents about the program, such as by creating Spanish and Portuguese translations of documents outlining it for people who sign contracts for nursing care services. But Namisato says there are many people who don’t even know where to go to find information about them.

Furthermore, the nursing care system does not offer interpretation services for people who don’t speak Japanese.

“Care managers can’t make proper nursing care plans unless they can accurately grasp what kind of services users are looking for, and users will not be convinced of the services they get unless they understand the explanations given by care managers,” said Mie Asakura, 58, a professor at Kinjo Gakuin University in Nagoya who specializes in community welfare.

“It is necessary to assure that people of all nationalities receive interpretation services,” Asakura pointed out.

An official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, however, said the ministry does not plan to offer interpretation services under the program because it only deals with services directly related to nursing care, such as helping the elderly go to the bathroom.

“Interpretation services do not match with the program and we have not received requests from local governments for such services,” said the official.

The government released a package of policy measures in December to provide greater support for foreign workers, whose numbers are expected to swell under the revised law. The measures include training for medical interpreters, but there is no mention of nursing care interpreters.

In Aichi, Care Center Homi provides interpretation on a volunteer basis at the apartment complex, and three nonprofit organizations based in Nagoya have jointly launched a project to dispatch paid Chinese-speaking nursing care interpreters mainly for Japan’s aging war orphans — those left behind in China during the war who could only return to Japan years later.

The Aichi Prefectural Government is preparing to set up a nursing care interpretation system as part of its new five-year Multicultural Coexistence Promotion Plan, which started in fiscal 2018.

“It is necessary, per se, to create a system friendly to elderly foreign nationals together with the government’s plan to invite more foreign workers,” said an Aichi Prefectural Government official. “If the government includes interpretation services in nursing care insurance plans, it will encourage the nurturing of interpreters across the nation.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 20.