French companies line up to care for China's elderly

Updated: 2013-05-30 07:13

By Li Xiang in Paris (China Daily)

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A rapidly aging China is catching the eyes of French nursing home operators, who are planning to tap into the growing need of the country's elderly population.

Colisee Patrimoine Group, the fifth-largest nursing home operator in France, has rolled out an ambitious plan to open 50 elderly communities with 25,000 beds across China, targeting a turnover of 300 million euros ($386.7 million) in the next five to seven years.

Its first nursing home, which will offer 700 beds and occupy about 500,000 square meters, is expected to open in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province next year, according to Pascal Brunelet, the group's managing director.

The project is being jointly developed by Colisee and its Chinese partner CITIC Group, a State-owned enterprise.

While domestic growth of the home nursing industry in France has almost ground to a halt due to insufficient government funding, China has emerged as an attractive market for French operators looking to exploring opportunities abroad.

China is facing a serious challenge from its rapidly aging population and the number of people aged over 60 is expected to reach 200 million this year, and to double by 2050, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Meanwhile, the impact of the country's one-child policy, and the massive ongoing urbanization process have also exacerbated the aging problem in China.

A shortage of quality elderly care facilities in both urban and rural areas of the country has become a pressing issue for the Chinese government.

"We want to find ways to increase our development through internationalization," said Brunelet.

"The changing demographic and social trend in China offers us huge opportunity. It is an ideal time for us to enter the market.

"If the model in Kunming proves to be successful, we are going to duplicate it in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai," he said, adding that Colisee expects to open another nursing home in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, in 2014.

Another major French nursing home operator, Orpea Group, meanwhile, also plans to establish a China division to introduce care home facilities in Beijing and Shanghai, to target high-income families.

"There are considerably fewer care homes in China than in France, for a need that is obviously many times greater," Orpea's Chairman Jean-Claude Marian was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Colisee's Kunming facility will consist of a daycare center and a retirement center with medical assistance.

The overall service will cost between 12,000 and 15,000 yuan ($2,430) per person per month in addition to an entry fee, according to Brunelet.

But the company is also considering the creation of another brand name that offers services at lower prices, to be more accessible to a greater population in China.

Brunelet said that the design and construction of a nursing home as well as professional staff training are essential for success in China.

"For example, the structure and the environment have an effect on residents with mental diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

"So the building and the facilities have to be designed properly and professionally," he said.

The company has already signed a contract with Beijing Social Administration Vocational College, a higher education institution affiliated with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, to train professional nursing staff in its facilities in China.

"We will establish a profile of life habits for each individual client to make sure we provide tailor-made and personalized services," Brunelet said.

Local culture and environment issues are also being taken into account in order to adapt services to the needs of Chinese residents.

Orpea, for instance, is planning to involve Chinese medicine in its medical care service, according to Marian, and to build gardens attached to apartments for residents who would like to practice tai chi as their morning exercise.

(China Daily 05/30/2013 page17)