Tue 26 Jun, 2007 12:53 am
At least four German companies (three related to the Evangelical and Catholic Churches) run about a dozen German senior homes in Spain since a couple of years.
Norway looks after its elderly - in Spain
· State-subsidised trips are just what the doctor orders
· It's cheaper, warmer - and no pining for the fjords
Dale Fuchs in Madrid
Tuesday June 26, 2007
Norway is exporting its elderly and infirm to the Costa Blanca in the hope that the Mediterranean climate will help them live longer - and that lower costs will save the state money.
In a new twist on care for the elderly, thousands of Norwegians are relaxing in the Spanish sun and taking health cures at a growing number of geriatric and rehabilitation centres run by Norwegian municipalities and staffed almost entirely by Norwegians in the Alicante region.
The trend goes beyond the waves of "health tourists", including many Britons, who fly to Malaga for a cheaper hip replacement or a shorter waiting list than back home. All the Norwegians have to do is get the approval of their doctors, fill in a few forms and they are eligible for six weeks to a lifetime stay near Benidorm, at the expense of Norwegian tax payers.
"Instead of building a new treatment centre in Oslo, local authorities can just build one in southern Spain," said Lotte Tollefsen, a spokeswoman at the Norwegian embassy in Madrid. "It is easy to find qualified medical personnel and the climate is very beneficial to the patients. Compared to the Norwegian winters, it's a soothing balm."
Salaries, land prices and ordinary living expenses are also considerably lower in Alicante than in Norway, one of the most expensive countries in the world. Many doctors and nurses are even willing to accept lower pay in exchange for the chance to work for a year or two in sunny Spain.
The governments of chilly cities such as Oslo or Stavanger have already opened five residences, most of them near the town of L'Alfas del Pi, home to about 10,000 Norwegians. The largest, Reumasol, operated by a state-subsidised rheumatism association, sees approximately 2,500 patients a year. The complex includes 44 apartments, 32 hotel rooms, three pools and a miniature golf course. Those who come without a doctor's orders pay 600-1,000 (£400-675) for two weeks.
A sixth residence is expected to open in Altea next year, and other municipalities are scouting for building sites. The Norwegian government has even opened its own social security office in Alicante.
"I'm sure this is just the start," said Marit Moller Wolfe, director of Fundación Betanien, a geriatric residence in Alfas del Pi operated by the city of Bergen. "Every month we receive visits from a different delegation of politicians from Norway who want to copy how we do it."
At the Betanien centre, 15 elderly patients have won the approval of doctors and municipal authorities for a lifetime stay. About 50 others are shuttled each year between Bergen and this pastel-coloured haven with a garden, swimming pool and Friday outings to the local market. And the cost is covered entirely by the state pensions, with spending money to spare, Ms Moller Wolfe said.
A sun cure costs only 16 a day for the patients at Bærumshjemmet in Altea, a centre run by Baerum, Stavanger and Oslo. The rest of the stay - including lodging in a small flat, physiotherapy and medical treatment - goes on the bill of the three municipalities.
"It's warm, it's delicious, it's everything Norway isn't," said Tor Slitvold, who came to the centre from a village north of Trondheim to lose weight and stabilise his gait. He said it is often too cold for him to leave his home in winter, but he preferred to come to Alicante in summer because the centre offers weekly excursions to the beach.
"I'm going home tomorrow and I feel terrible about it," he said after his latest beach outing. "I've been here six weeks and I was hoping to get six more but they said no. I'll try to come back next year."