+ A

Seniors die all alone due to shortfall in welfare staff

June 24,2017
The withered body of a 61-year-old woman was discovered sprawled on the floor of her Choryang-dong, Busan, apartment earlier this week. A post-mortem indicated the woman, surnamed Yun, died nearly four months earlier.

After being subjected to domestic violence by her ex-husband, Yun divorced 30 years ago and lost touch with her two children 10 years ago. She had been living in solitude ever since.

When she moved to the villa-style apartment in 2011, she avoided her neighbors and lived a solitary existence by all accounts. When Yun, a beneficiary of the National Basic Livelihood Security System (NBLSS), a social assistance program for senior citizens living alone and low-income households, began exhibiting symptoms of dementia in June 2016, she was deemed eligible for integrated care management, which gave enhanced medical services, food and even laundry services. Under the NBLSS, Yun received 490,000 won ($429) per month.

After undergoing brain surgery in July 2016, Yun recovered without complications and her status as an integrated care management recipient was terminated last October. She slipped under the radar of the District Office in Busan.

Last February, Yun’s landlord informed the Dong Office that he couldn’t contact Yun. In April, a social welfare worker from the District Office visited her apartment but got no response. The social worker left a notice asking her to contact the office. Two months later, neighbors complained to the landlord of a strange smell. Yun was discovered.

Of the 89,000 people residing in Busan’s Dong District, 30,000 receive some kind of welfare such as basic livelihood subsidy, disability payments or special medical aid. Nearly 20 percent receive the basic livelihood subsidy. Just 65 Dong District social welfare workers look after 30,000 people.

“There’s only one welfare worker for every 400 people, so we can’t reach each and every individual recipient of basic livelihood subsidy,” said an official at the District Office social welfare department. “One can only concentrate on the people that require the most assistance.”

Only three of 60 integrated care management recipients are in regular contact with the District Office’s welfare workers.

Five kilometers (3.10 miles) away from Yun’s villa, 51-year-old Ms. Kim also died alone in her home. She was discovered on June 12 by the Busan police after neighbors complained about a smell. Single, Kim severed contact with her siblings 10 years ago and lived alone ever since her mother died.

“As the number of elderly living alone increases, the number of people like Kim who are discovered after being left alone will become more frequent,” said a Busan police officer. “Even though the government should lend a helping hand to persons such as Kim, who have the ability to work, they are left alone because of a lack of manpower.”

BY LEE EUN-JI [hwang.hosub@joongango.co.kr]