Hong Kong often portrays itself as a caring society, with several support services available for those who need them. Unfortunately, there are still loopholes, as reflected in repeated reports of the weak and vulnerable who are left to die through an apparent lack of care, culminating in distress that could have been avoided.
The circumstances leading to the deaths of two mentally disabled brothers, aged 53 and 55, inside a public housing flat at Sau Mau Ping Estate are now a matter for an inquest. The decomposing bodies of the siblings, left alone at home after their mother was admitted to hospital in May, were only found on September 22 after neighbours complained of a smell.
The grim discovery has inevitably raised questions as to whether the two men died because they were unable to take care of themselves.
Sadly, theirs is not an isolated case. In May, the skeleton of a tenant, 69, who lived alone in a Sha Tin public rental flat was discovered by Housing Authority staff.
Only the day before, a woman, 59, and her father, 86, were found dead in their home at Mei Foo Sun Chuen in Lai Chi Kok, after a relative could not reach them and called for help. The following month saw a bedridden woman, 75, rescued from her flat in Happy Valley while her younger brother, 71, who also cared for her, lay dead in the bathroom.
The government invariably responds to such cases by first identifying whether those concerned were under the attention of relevant agencies. This may give the impression officials are seeking to distance themselves from events for which they were not responsible.
However, there may be a variety of reasons as to why tragic cases do not appear on the radar of the authorities or welfare groups, exposing gaps in the supporting network.
In the case of the brothers, the Hospital Authority later clarified that their situation was brought to the attention of medical social workers following the admission of their mother to hospital. They were also able to visit her on their own, and home care training was provided in preparation for the eventual return of their mother, the authority said.
The Coroner’s Court will examine evidence available and come to its own conclusions on the deaths. In the meantime, the authorities would do well to take another look at services provided.
The recurrence of “hidden cases” is a clear indication that all is not as well as it should be.
A wider safety net is required and, although a hotline is available for carers seeking help, concern groups, family members and neighbours can also play their part.