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Plan to invest over Rs. 300 crore in the next three to four years: Rajit Mehta

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India is already home to a rapidly growing senior population with estimates suggesting that by the end of this century, seniors will constitute 34 per cent of our demography, points out Rajit Mehta, CEO and MD, Antara Senior Living. The group plans to invest over Rs. 300 crore in the next three to four years across the existing and new business offerings, to cater to an addressable market of around four million Indian seniors in the mass affluent/affluent segment who can afford such private sector services

Mehta believes that India needs to transform its way of approaching senior care and gives his views on the Draft National Policy for Senior Citizens which was released in in 2020 after almost a decade. He feels that with a fast-growing senior population, India has the distinctive opportunity of creating employment opportunities for its youth, while providing world-class services to seniors

As per the Global Burden of Diseases 2017 study published in The Lancet journal, India’s population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion in 2048, after which it will steadily decline to 1.09 billion in 2100. Is India prepared to face such a drastic demographic change? 

 We are one of the youngest nations in the world today with a median age of 28.1 years. I strongly believe that our demographic advantage and its untapped economic value could help us become the world’s next factory.

But I feel this should not happen at the expense of the senior population. We are already home to a rapidly growing senior population with estimates suggesting that by the end of this century, seniors will constitute 34 per cent of our demography. Therefore, we need to gradually shift our policy and industry discourse to the senior population, while continuing to identify ways to take advantage of the demographic dividend. We will take years to build a robust, well-rounded senior care industry that can cater to all the diverse needs of seniors.

I must admit that the Draft Policy for Senior Citizens 2020 is a welcome step in this direction and the vision behind the document will pave way for more definitive interventions. Globally, senior care is an established and sought-after service especially in markets such as Japan, Singapore, the US, and many parts of Europe that provide employment opportunities to millions of people. I feel that with a fast-growing senior population, India has the distinctive opportunity of creating employment opportunities for its youth, while providing world-class services to seniors.

I would say that India is becoming acutely aware of this significant change and is opening up to accept conversations around the needs of the senior population. But there is still a long way to go. The change is happening gradually, but it will need to be expedited, in line with the evolving needs of this segment.

 The Senior Care industry in India, unlike the west, is still at a nascent stage and would need continued Government intervention and private sector participation to cater to the evolving needs of the elderly population. How is the sector performing now? How is the supply-demand landscape looking currently? 

 As a fledgling yet high potential sector, senior care requires sustained Government support to create a robust ecosystem in India.  Government’s intent seems to be getting more apparent now. For instance, the Draft Policy for Senior Citizens 2020 reflects the understanding of the evolving needs of seniors to a large extent and promises to revamp and standardise the existing policy framework to ensure better efficiency and functional relevance.

Government support is crucial in ensuring close collaboration between public and private sector players in providing world-class senior care services. The Government aims to focus its attention on:

  • Financial security for seniors
  • Promotion of silver economy
  • Senior specific healthcare services
  • Awareness and capacity building
  • Active ageing with intergenerational bonding
  • Research study

The above areas are central to the development and growth of the senior care ecosystem India. This will also help seniors afford a variety of products and services specific to their needs.

I believe the government should continue to offer its support to private sector players in terms of tax incentives, easy clearances, and access to foreign capital so that they can address the evolving needs and aspirations of this segment. Increased investment and private sector participation will create a competitive environment and would provide prospective customers with multiple options to access services at affordable rates. This will not only encourage faster adoption of services but will also create a competitive environment, ultimately creating a win-win model for both the service provider and the customer.

What is Antara’s role in it? How does Antara plan to address the needs of the senior segment in India?

 We entered the senior care space with the launch of our first residential community in Dehradun in 2017. I believe our learnings from running a world-class senior living facility gave us valuable insights on senior care. It helped us realise the gaps in essential senior care services, highlighted the demand for customised, holistic care while highlighting an opportunity for Antara to offer comprehensive solutions. We also realised that to comprehensively cater to the senior segment, we will need to graduate to an integrated platform for seniors, offering multiple services, not restricting ourselves to residential communities.

As a result, we recently entered the assisted care services space with the launch of two new lines of business, namely, Care Homes and Care at Home.

As of now, we have three very distinct business verticals:

  • Residences for seniors: Antara currently has residential communities in Dehradun and Noida. We are targeting progressive individuals above the age of 55. We cater to social, recreational, educational, wellness and health related requirements.
  • Care Homes: We launched our first Care Home in Gurugram in July this year. At our Care Homes, we provide both long-term and short-term care services. Long-term services are designed for seniors who need constant medical and nursing supervision while short-term care services aim at providing a comfortable and sanitised environment for the recuperation of seniors, who may have gone through an intense medical episode or require short term assisted stay for other purposes. We intend to open over 35 such Care Homes including a few Memory Care homes, over next few years, which will have over 1200 beds
  • Care at Home: We provide well-equipped, medically trained professionals who can offer seniors the care needed inside the comfort of one’s own home. The initial set of services include critical care, physio, rehab, nursing, GDA and diagnostics.

At Antara, we are fully committed to catering to the evolving requirements and aspirations of seniors through a blend of Lifecare and Lifestyle offerings, delivering a complete and seamless experience. To this end, we plan to invest over Rs. 300 crore in the next three to four years across the new Assisted Care Services and our existing business line of residences. We believe this will help us make significant contributions to building a robust senior care ecosystem in India.

Our addressable market is around four million Indian seniors in the mass affluent/affluent segment who can afford such private sector services.

The draft National Policy for Senior Citizens 2020 came after almost a decade. Why now and what is its implication for a young country like India? 

Even today, India continues to be known for its demographic dividend. The reason for comparatively less focus on the senior population is perhaps because demographically we were becoming a younger country. It is natural for the Government to focus on the large age set, which is the youth.

But in future, as the population starts ageing, and with seniors as a cohort estimated to reach 158 million by 2025, the release of the new policy is well timed. I need to clarify here that India introduced the National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) as early as 1999 that sought to offer state support for the well-being of senior citizens. Subsequently, in 2007, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens’ Act was passed to provide more effective provisions for seniors.

India has been watchful of its ageing population. I believe that the draft policy will be the starting point for more concrete and supportive action from the Government.

India’s healthcare system almost collapsed following the COVID-19 outbreak. This has also exposed the loopholes in the healthcare sector. What is the Government’s role especially now when the pandemic has particularly impacted seniors? 

 I believe that the pandemic not only tested India’s economic preparedness but also exposed the inadequacies in the healthcare system. Currently, we spend only 3.6 per cent of our GDP on public health which makes it the lowest among emerging economies in the world. This signifies the flaws and weak links in India’s healthcare system that could break down when an unexpected crisis of this magnitude hits us. The public healthcare expenditure therefore needs to be raised from the current 3.6 per cent to at least 5 per cent of the GDP to be better prepared in the face of similar healthcare emergencies in future, especially in the wake of a growing senior population. With the ageing population and their evolving preferences, India needs to transform its way of approaching senior care.

We need more structured care programmes, targeted policies, specialised medical services, senior friendly architecture, and economic/ financial interventions to ensure better quality of life for seniors.

Sustainable income is a major concern for seniors in India and around the globe. How does the draft policy seek to address this?

The draft policy adequately emphasises the significance of financial security for seniors and recommends it as a key area of intervention. Even today, two thirds of the elderly population continue to live below the poverty line. Old age pension schemes constitute a major source of income for seniors. The policy says that the existing pension pay-outs are not enough to ensure income security for seniors and therefore, seeks to revise it from time to time keeping in mind the changing lifestyles, increasing healthcare costs and inflation.

If translated into action, it will promote senior friendly tax structures, promotion of reverse mortgage schemes, creation of second career options for seniors and the introduction of integrated insurance products will provide multiple income options to seniors to help them embrace a life-style of their choice.

What was the impact of COVID-19 on Antara and its residents? How prepared were you?

 We knew that seniors are the most vulnerable segment to get impacted by COVID-19. So, Antara Dehradun decided to initiate lockdown protocols a week before it was officially announced since the virus had started to spread in various pockets in India by then. This allowed us ample time to prepare ourselves and the residents mentally.

 We were able to stock up essentials such as medical supplies, PPE kits, food supplies and other items, and were ready for the lockdown period. Provisions were made for the staff to stay on the campus and they have been there ever since the lockdown. All precautionary measures have been taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the staff. Additionally, we organised mock drills for the staff to familiarise them with the “new normal” and prepare them for any unforeseen eventuality.

We made sure that the residents were reassured of the safety precautions being taken by the management. We were also cognizant of the fact that apart from safety, we had a herculean task at hand that needed attention: safeguard the seniors from the impact of lockdown on their mental health. We devised and followed a carefully put together process to also maintain their social, mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

In short, we anticipated the impact in time, prepared with agility and tried to balance the humane needs with rigour and protocols. The investment we made in the past in choosing employees with ‘Sevabhav’ and the continuous training, has resulted in a team which has accomplished this with unfaltering dedication.

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