China is aging. In 2014, 15.5% of the country's population was 60 or over. That number is projected to reach 17.5% in 2020.
To help its senior citizens live better lives and reduce the burden on traditional nursing homes struggling to meet demand, Beijing is leading an initiative to bring quality care to private homes and whole neighbourhoods.
A community-based senior care center serves the elderly in a certain neighborhood, offering daytime care, recreation, meals, medical care, assisted showering, psychological counseling and access to fitness equipment, among other amenities. It's called "post-house" because seniors either stay there during the day or for a period often shorter than 15 days. Unlike traditional nursing homes, users can also access its services from the comfort of their own homes.
Mr. Ding, 85, has been bedridden for years. Since September last year, Wang Yuhua, a personal nurse from his neighborhood's nursing home, has been taking care of him.
"He was always depressed when I first came, and he didn't like to talk at all. Now when I sing a song, he would follow my lead and belt it out," Wang said.
To ensure a high quality of care, new technology also plays a part. Wang can access Mr. Ding's care regime through her mobile phone after her nurse card is verified. She checks every step, from washing his face, to breakfast assistance, to rehabilitative training and lunch, on her phone after its completion.
"Living at home is actually not much different from living in a traditional nursing home for Mr. Ding," said Wang. "I wouldn't mind living like this when I'm old."
An instant hit among urban seniors put off by living away from home, this new kind of care has sprouted across Beijing. As of October last year, 79 such nursing facilities have been up and running. By 2020, 1,000 of them will cater to the needs of the elderly.
Beijing's first neighborhood nursing home was in Sanlitun, famed for its gleaming shopping centers and nightlife.
"We have 23 beds here and the cost for each elderly person is 100 yuan (about 14.5 USD) a day, for another 100 yuan you can get a meal, an assisted shower, a pedicure and a hair shaving," said Ding Lijuan, head of the home.
"Many older people in the neighborhood wanting to live here are put on a wait list."
The local government wants to reduce the length of those lists. Incentives for community-based nursing homes include free use of land and facilities, free interior decoration and furniture, together with meal and equipment subsidies.
Government support, while making it easier for private investors to help an aging society, doesn't guarantee the profitability of the facilities. A survey in 2015 found more than 30 percent of all elderly care institutions in China were in the red.
Zhang Yishuai, general manager of CHJ-Care, a leading provider of community-based elderly care, said the company is investing 200 million yuan in building and maintaining more than 20 post-house nursing homes in Beijing.
"It's not very profitable at the beginning," admitted Zhang. "But the growth in numbers of our nursing homes will present a good opportunity for wealth management and entertainment products."
If community-based elderly care proves successful, the model's social benefits could well outweigh the financial ones.
Despite China's long-standing tradition of filial piety, the country is seeing more and more empty nests as a younger generation of Chinese seek their dreams in cities or countries away from their parents. New types of care and facilities can let seniors enjoy the company of their neighbors, not to mention improvements in their quality of life and assistance in the case of emergencies.