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Vol. 8 No. 3: September issue

Long-term Care Hospitals and Changing Elderly Care in South Korea

August 23, 2020


Until recently in South Korea, the central dilemma facing children with ageing parents was how and by whom their parents should be cared for. In accordance with the norm of filial piety, the eldest son used to take responsibility. However, with the recent proliferation of long-term care hospitals, this arrangement is changing. These institutions, which play the combined role of rehabilitative hospital, long-term care centre, and nursing home, admit elderly people who do not require active medical intervention. The government’s promotion of these hospitals, centred on deregulation, ambiguity around their function, and the lack of alternative care facilities, has led to an expansion of the sector and consequently to the ‘nursing hom(e)fication’ of many of these institutions. While these hospitals ease the pressures associated with an ageing population, their mainstreaming has had an impact on healthcare, medicine, and the lives of elderly people. The hospital field has become commercialised, medical practice is being transformed, and the dignity of elderly people is being lost through hospitalisation. In this new care regime, filial piety itself is undergoing transformation—from an ideology underpinning the domestication of care, to the market idiom of service compliance. In this article, I introduce these hospitals and investigate how their growth has brought about a Korean style of elderly care commodification, revealing the undercurrents of healthcare privatisation and the neoliberalisation of welfare.