x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Elderly expats not entitled to free care

An estimated 30,000 expats aged over 60 live in the UAE.

The need for geriatric care is not confined to the Emirati community.

Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that the number of expatriates over 60 increased by 68 per cent in 10 years, with about 28,200 in 2005 compared with 16,800 in 1995.

Experts estimate that this number could have passed 30,000 by now.

This group is not entitled to free public care so rely on private nursing facilities or long-term intensive care units in hospitals - services rarely covered by insurance companies.

One company offering private home care is Al Hilal Private Nursing and Medical Services.

It employs 40 nurses who work in 12-hour shifts at the patient's home. The service costs about Dh8,000 a month and is not covered by insurance.

"Most people stay with us for one to three months until they realise they can get a similar service at a cheaper price by training their maid or hiring their own nurse," said Atallah Habib, the director.

To keep costs down, Al Hilal relies on nurses rather than qualified geriatricians, he said. A beginner geriatrician's salary would be at least Dh15,000 to Dh18,000 a month.

"Nearly half the cost is covering administrative expenses, including the nurses' accommodation, drivers and vehicle maintenance," said Mr Habib. "The other half goes as salary to the hired nurse. So as a company, we're not left with much. Imagine adding a geriatrician's salary to this. Who's going to bear the costs? Certainly not the customer."

Another option for aging foreigners, who are usually the parents of working expatriates, is a long-term care facility, such as the recently launched Transitional Care Unit at the American Hospital Dubai.

The facility is the only private institution in the emirate to offer a dedicated unit for transitional care, which bridges the gap between hospital and home-care.

The unit's eight beds are full but there are plans to expand to 15 beds within the next month and 22 by July.

Dr Senthil Raj Meenrajan, the unit's geriatrician, said the community support system for the elderly was lacking.

"There are very few home-visiting physicians, so the amount of care you can actually deliver at homes is limited, while the concept of a nursing home is almost non-existent," he said. "We need to have a dedicated place for them. If it's a stigma or culturally unacceptable to have it as a stand-alone nursing home, then we should find a balance between a home and a medical facility."

mismail@thenational.ae