By CHULARAT SAENGPASSA
A HOSPITAL is now operating in Chiang Mai province exclusively for the elderly under an initiative to cater medical services to the needs of Thailand’s aged society.
“We have seen a growing percentage of elderly patients at our Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital. So, we have decided to prepare something for the country’s population shift,” said Dr Bannakij Lojanapiwat, the dean of Chiang Mai University’s (CMU) Faculty of Medicine. “It’s necessary that the country’s medical sector keep pace with the changes.”
The idea behind the Geriatric Medical Center, which treats only those aged 60 or older, is to ensure that seniors are not crammed into overcrowded medical facilities or wait too long for medical services.
Last year, the number of elderly in Thailand hovered around 9 million.
The National Economic and Social Development Board has predicted that the number will rise quickly over the next decade, as Thailand looks set to transform into an aged society by 2031.
“Aside from launching the Geriatric Medical Center a few years ago, we have also have a CMU Palliative Care unit up and running to advise family members how to take care of ill patients at home,” Bannakij said.
According to him, while increasingly advanced medical technologies have allowed people to live longer, they have also raised the risk of people becoming bed-bound patients requiring palliative care.
“So, we are training family members how to care for their loved – but ill – ones at home,” Bannakij said.
It was not possible to let patients stay at a hospital forever, he said, because of the care required and the person’s quality of life.
“It’s not good to live inside a small room for long,” he said. “A hospital is also full of patients with various health issues.” Patients are at risk of catching potentially fatal diseases from each other.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that about 20 million people need palliative care in the last phase of their lives. Of them, about 70 per cent are elderly.
CMU Faculty of Medicine has also established a bank of medical devices, which loans items such as medical oxygen cylinders free of charge.
“In the near future, we will upgrade our CMU Palliative Care unit, creating a four-storey building where family members can receive training on how to care for patients before they move back home,” the visionary doctor said. “We are willing to spend more than Bt100 million on this project”.
He said that without training, many family members were frightened by the prospect of handling patients by themselves.
“Together with the bank of medical devices, this ward will create opportunities for patients to spend their final moments happily with family members,” Bannakij said.
Addressing Thailand’s growth in elderly people, his faculty has been making efforts to develop a long-term care centre for the elderly on 66 rai (11 hectares) of land in Chiang Mai’s Muang district.
“We plan to work with various relevant faculties in showcasing proper care of the elderly,” Bannakij said. The facility should be ready early next year.
That centre will have 100 beds and feature elder-friendly architectural designs and activities that will delight seniors. Bannakij said Japanese experts have contributed to the development of this centre.
“This is about the elderly care for the above-60-year-olds who are still relatively healthy. They can exercise and learn together to maintain their health,” he said.
“At the new centre, we will focus on knowledge distribution. Others can come to learn from us the right way of elderly care.”
He added that private firms would be welcome to visit the Long Term Care Centre to learn how to properly run senior homes for Thais
According to Bannakij, the new centre will be different from the palliative-care unit that caters to the elderly with serious chronic health issues, such as cancer patients.
Bannakij said his medical school operates several medical facilities and has taken up many new initiatives to fulfil three core missions: delivery of healthcare services, research, and education.
The Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital has been a major medical facility for the North, with a 1,400-bed capacity. It opens its doors to foreigners, sometimes including those without the financial means to foot their medical bills.
“Every year, we spend about Bt100 million on treatments for underprivileged Thais and impoverished people from the neighbouring countries who are ill but are unable to pay,” said the doctor.
“We can’t be reimbursed by the government. So, we have to find money from other methods. Donations to the hospital are between Bt30 million and Bt40 million a year. From now on, we will try to campaign more to raise funds. Also, we will try to manage chargeable medical services efficiently so as to generate income to cover the cost arising from non-paying patients,” Bannakij said.
His medical school also runs a private hospital, Sriphat Medical Centre.
“It will be upgraded into a Medical Hub Complex in the near future,” he said. “We are constructing its new facilities.”
Once the Medical Hub Complex opens in 2021, Sriphat’s old building is to be merged into Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital.