An eight-member delegation of interdisciplinary social services professionals from Chicago visited Shanghai from October 24–31, 2015, to learn about Shanghai’s aging policies and programs. This second annual exchange follows a delegation from Shanghai visiting Chicago in 2014. The city of Shanghai has a population of over 24 million, and 2.7 million of its residents are aged 65 or older, equivalent to Chicago’s entire population. Chicago is facing the challenge of planning and delivering services for aging Chicagoans, including the large tide of baby boomers growing older. Thus, Chicago and Shanghai have much to learn from each other about how to care for their aging populations.
The delegation started its intensive weeklong program with an initial meeting at the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, which graciously hosted the delegation and arranged the program. The delegation visited public and private programs and facilities, including senior housing, nursing homes, home and community-based programs, an elderly law court and an aging research institute. The exchange concluded with a wrap-up meeting to discuss key topics covered during the week, including assessment of care needs and aging programs, integration of social and medical services, prevention and public health, the role of non-governmental organizations, dementia and end-of-life care issues, and legal issues including guardianship.
The delegation, led by Phyllis Mitzen, included James Burton, Ahmad Djangi, Xinqi Dong, Nancy Flowers, Joseph Monahan, Naoko Muramatsu, and Andrew Teitelman. The mission of this delegation was facilitated by lively exchanges among the delegation members who represented multiple disciplines (social work, health services, law, medicine, psychology, sociology) and fields (housing, family and social services, geriatrics, hospice and end-of-life care, long-term care, public guardianship, research).
The two sister cities face similar aging-related issues. Both cities deal with a shortage of long-term care workers by employing migrant workers and ethnic minorities. The delegation was struck not only by Shanghai’s hospitality, but also by Shanghai’s openness to learning from the best practices from all over the world and its commitment to developing a long-term care system for its enormous aging population. Intensive, direct exposure to Shanghai’s challenges and solutions resulted in a “mind-bending, once in a lifetime trip” for the Chicago delegation. Learning of this magnitude would not be possible through books and newspapers. The end of China’s 35-year old One Child Policy was announced during the visit, which allowed the delegation to feel the direct impact of that policy on the people of Shanghai. The Social Services Subcommittee of the China Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International has started planning next year’s exchange in Chicago to further deepen mutual understanding of aging issues in Shanghai and Chicago.