This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Health alliance spreads to China

Mennonite Health Services Alliance influences a variety of organizations and is beginning to influence a variety of nations.

Mennonite Health Services representative Dennis Russell, left, and China Christian Council deputy director of social services Paul Wang, fourth from left, take part in a late November conference on elderly services. — Photo by MHS

A year after MHS representatives first met with Protestant pastors in the China Christian Council to discuss developing church-sponsored retirement centers there, the parties met again in November to discuss how they might work together to share expertise.

CCC is a national church assembly. MHS is a Mennonite Church USA agency that provides education and other services to more than 70 Anabaptist health and human service ministries.

An MHS delegation participated in a conference of the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in Shanghai. MHS consultants Dennis Russell and Suzanne Owens also gave a presentation on elderly services Nov. 26 at a CCC-sponsored workshop for pastors and leaders in Shandong.

Ron Yoder, MHS director of international relations, said connections began through Mennonite Partners in China, through which CCC inquired about a presentation to be made in China.

“After that meeting a number of leaders asked if Mennonite Health Services would be open to a collaborative relationship to help Protestant congregations in China that want to get involved in providing senior care,” Yoder said. “We have developed an understanding of the areas where we’ll collaborate, and it’s evolving into a longer-term commitment.”

The collaboration will focus on sharing expertise on training and education. At this point it will not provide funding for facility development.

“It will broaden the views of management staff and enrich the nursing skills of the nurses in our senior homes,” said Peter Wang, CCC deputy director of social services.

Due to longer lifespans and China’s one-child policy, the senior population is growing rapidly and outpacing younger generations. The Chinese government recognizes a growing need for senior care, even opening the nation to foreign investment.

“The demographic projections are so overwhelming. Estimates are that by 2040 there will be 450 million Chinese 65-plus,” Yoder said. “That is larger than the U.S. population currently, so the government is really, you could say, scrambling to lay the groundwork to care for these people.”

In May 2012, there were 185 church-run senior homes, and the number is growing. Wang said they serve about 150 people, on average, and include basic necessities like a bathroom, kitchen, dining hall, clinic, heating in the north and cooling systems in the south. However, nurses’ skills have lagged, which the partnership hopes to address.

“We only hire some not-well-educated people and train them for a few days or even don’t provide training — learning through practice,” Wang said. “It is becoming more and more difficult because of the longevity of people, and more illness in their late years.”

Delegation hosting

Wang will lead a delegation from China to the U.S. in March. They will visit Bluestem Communities and Mennonite Friendship Communities in central Kansas. They will also be guests at Mennonite Health Assembly March 6-8 in Kansas City, Mo.

Further interactions are being planned for a health and human service leadership summit in conjunction with the 2015 Mennonite World Conference assembly in Harrisburg, Pa. Yoder hopes to bring together health care organizations from each of MWC’s five global regions.

“The long-term vision is to create a global network for health care leaders,” Yoder said. “That’s very much in the early concept and planning phase.”

He hopes MHS could begin facilitating more exchanges with other nations. He said leaders in Paraguay have expressed interest.

“There are a number of developmental disability providers that are members of MHS expressing interest in exchanges with French Mennonites doing developmental disability work in France,” Yoder said. “We anticipate more activity in the future between North America and Anabaptist institutions around the world.”

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