CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Father Sean Burke honoured at opening of new facility

HONG KONG (SE): The grand opening of the Father Sean Burke Care Home for the Elderly in Sai Kung on November 11 was testimony that the helping hand of the late Maryknoll priest is still active two-and-a-half years after his death.

The foundation, which came into existence under the inspiration of Father Burke in 1978, currently sponsors three homes for the care of people in need and three housing units for people in their sunset years, caring for over 700 people.

The charity, was founded to re-house people of advanced age living in the squalor of caged bed spaces in Hong Kong, but today, has the much broader objective of providing quality residential care, rehabilitation, dementia care and community support services.

The executive chairperson of Helping Hand, Johanna Arculli, said that the home, which began accepting residents in June this year, has the imprint of Father Burke’s imagination and expertise clearly stamped on it, as it was 10 years in the planning.

“He had a lot to do with the concrete planning of this new building,” she told the Sunday Examiner. 

She went on to explain that it was purpose-built for the relocation of three older homes run by the charity, located in the Chak On, Kwai Shing and Tai Wo Hau Estates.

Staff at the new centre explained that the percentage of residents suffering from varying degrees of dementia has risen alarmingly over the past few years.

 “We now have 40 per cent of them affected in this way,” one said, “whereas it used to be only about 10 per cent.”

This is in part due to more precise diagnostic techniques, as well as a greater sensitivity in the general community to the symptoms of the disease. Consequently, there is a much higher diagnosis rate among people afflicted with dementia than in previous eras. 

The building has specific dementia-friendly aspects. Built in a series of triangles, all corridors lead back to a central point. 

“People with dementia like to walk a lot,” the staff member said. “This design means they cannot get lost, as they are never far away and keep returning to a central location.”

The new centre is located on the same property as the existing Holiday Centre for the Elderly, run by Helping Hand.

The group says, “It is the only purpose-built recreational centre for all seniors in Hong Kong.”

Helping Hand describes it as bringing the concept of continuum of care into full swing, by providing different levels of residential care, according to the needs of the client.

“It now forms the Cheung Muk Tau Integrated Services Complex in Sai Kung,” it says.

The guest of honour for the day was the secretary for Food and Health, York Chow Yat-ngok.

He acknowledged the important role that charities play in cooperating with the government in providing quality health care in the community, and said that he hopes people will enjoy their new environment and the culture of the new home.

Maryknoll Sister Mary Ellen Kerrigan, a cousin of Father Burke, travelled from Taiwan to represent the Burke family at the opening.

She said, “Sean would be deeply humbled by this extreme display of affection. As many of you, who knew him so well and shared his life for the 34 years he lived in Hong Kong, know that behind the scenes, in his quiet, unassuming way, Sean will be guiding you from above to work on the next project, whatever that may be.”

Sister Kerrigan assured the 200 people gathered for the opening of the new facility that the relatives and friends of Father Burke in the United States of America would be grateful for the posthumous honour being bestowed upon him.

“Ironically, Sean did not get to live to be as old as those he planned for and cared for, but he did have all of you as his helping hand when he was so far from his home. You became his family and source of comfort in good times and in times of greatest need, especially in his last few years, when he had Parkinson’s Disease,” Sister Kerrigan continued.

Father Burke died in Hong Kong on 5 May 2009, he was 63-years-old.

A representative of the Social Welfare Department told the Sunday Examiner that the design of the building had to be modified in some ways because of objections from neighbours, who claimed it was robbing them of their view and would affect the price of their properties negatively.

She reflected that these are problems that seldom arise when developing such facilities in public housing estates, where people seem to have a much better developed sense of community welfare and understanding of their dependency for their future needs.

“Even though we pointed out to the neighbours that they too may have a need for such facilities in the future, they just said that they do not want them here,” she related.

Helping Hand runs one home for seniors in Guangdong, China. 

It is the first such facility to have been set up by a Hong Kong charity to provide integrated and specialised dementia care for both Hong Kong residents and local people on the mainland.

The charity is dedicated to expanding its services to continue to provide quality and expert care to those in need, and continue to offer an environment where they can live contentedly and in peace.

‘Ironically, Sean did not get to live to be as old as those he planned for and cared for, but he did have all of you as his helping hand when he was so far from his home. You became his family and source of comfort in good times and in times of greatest need, especially in his last few years…’ 

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