Out in the Open

Why 'culturally appropriate' elder care matters

Mahjong, Chinese chess, singing, and of course, bingo: just some of the activities for seniors living at Yee Hong, a culturally appropriate care home.
Piya visits Sumi Kai, right, in her room at Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto. (Sam Colbert)

Sumi Kai has spent the last 12 years in retirement and long-term care homes. Now, she's 92 and loves where she lives, but it wasn't always that way.

"My children, they got a nice retirement home for me," Sumi says. "And, of course, everybody is a Caucasian, and I'm the only Japanese. And no matter what you say, although they're good to me, I feel a little isolated."

Sumi has since moved into Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto. Yee Hong is a culturally appropriate care home, primarily serving residents of Chinese heritage, but also those with Japanese and South Asian heritage. Its residents receive care in the language they're most comfortable speaking, eat food they're familiar with and have access to cultural activities they enjoy.

Yao Xianglin, an 88-year-old resident of Yee Hong who spent much of his life in Shanghai, says, "They are all Chinese here. I won't understand a thing if I am in another centre with Westerners. That would be quite troublesome."

Residents like Yao Xianglin enjoy activities like Mahjong, singing and Chinese chess. On Mondays, Sumi meets up with her friends, who are all over 90 years old. On special occasions, they eat inari sushi. 

Not everyone is so lucky. For the 805 beds in Yee Hong's four long-term care homes, there are as many as 4,000 active applications on the waitlist. It can take up to 10 years to get a bed.

And for many seniors, going into English-speaking homes isn't an option. 

"Our residents are saying that, 'I feel I'm isolated in other homes. I'm alone,'" says Yee Hong's CEO, Eric Hong. 

But his hope for when they come to Yee Hong is that they feel: "I'm coming home."

This story originally aired on October 8, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Ageing*".