Orphanage fire raises questions about unlicensed rest homes

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 23, 2013
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Zhang Keqin walks with an elder he takes care of in a village of Dandong, Liaoning Province, Jan. 22, 2013. [Xinhua]  

The tragic fire that struck an unlicensed orphanage managed by Yuan Lihai in Lankao, Henan Province on Jan. 4, killing seven children, has cast light on the existence of other such unregistered caretakers.

Zhang Keqin, a laid-off worker in Dandong, Liaoning Province, has been caring for more than 50 lonely elders in 17 years.

In Xiajian village, Jiuliancheng Town, Zhen'an District of Dandong, Zhang set up "Sunset Home" at a compound to take care of his "fathers" and "mothers." Waste paper was found near a heatable brick bed while elders were also using electricity mattresses to stay warm.

"Don't use [the blankets] now, it's easy to catch fire," Zhang told them. Fireproofing in the rest home isn’t up to standard, one of the reasons permission to run the home might be terminated, considering the fire at Yuan’s orphanage that took the lives of children.

Zhang bought his courtyard in 1996 and collected more than 50 elders to take care of until they passed. Some of the elderly he cares for are mentally or physically disabled. But before most of them came to this home, they tramped on the streets with no family to count on. Zhang established a small printing factory and used the income to build the rest home.


Zhang Keqin's "Sunset Home." [Xinhua] 

The daily cost of Zhang's own family life is supported by his wife. Zhang does not pay his own pension insurance to save more money for the elders.

In recent years, his charity has touched many people and has won several awards. But his home was operated without government permission. As such, he does not receive government subsidies and his facility could be terminated at any time. But due to their lasting compassion for those they care for, Zhang and his wife persisted.

Fireproofing equipment will cost several hundreds of thousands if Zhang is required to install it. For him, this would be a huge burden. "I just want to do some good, even though I'm tired. But my finances have limitations. I hope the government can help me," he told Xinhua News Agency.

The local government did help Zhang, providing him with 100,000 yuan in 2009, but it was far from enough. Although his nursing home may not be as safe and clean as government-supported ones, the 29 elders currently living there said they are not willing to leave. "When I came here, I finally could live a stable life," 91-year-old Zhao Guiying said. "When I was ill, Zhang was more upset than me. I now have a good son who suddenly came to me."

According to Shi Jiali, an official from Dandong City's Civil Affairs Bureau, the government wanted to terminate Zhang’s "Sunset Home" and transfer elders to government-supported nursing homes. "But we didn't make it, "Shi said. "Zhang Keqin treats elders too well, they quite rely on him. An elder even said he would never move even if a bulldozer were sent to demolish the place."

"After Yuan Lihai's tragedy, we pay high attention to Sunset Home's safety, and start to consider gradually transferring elders to government-supported nursing homes." Shi said. But the deep relationship between Zhang and elders makes this more difficult.

"We are also considering letting the fire department give directions and reduce possible dangers. We also will give benefits to elders according to their respective conditions."

Despite these improvements, the question still remains if Sunset Home will be eventually terminated and how to resolve the home's fireproofing issues.

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