By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Sep 2012
Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor has urged younger and able-bodied Singaporeans to accept the presence of nursing home and eldercare facilities in their neighbourhoods - as an "expression of solidarity" with the seniors in their community.
She said in her blog entry on Tuesday, titled "The Spirit of Caring", that it is important to strengthen access to a strong network of support services that help caregivers better manage their stress and become more effective.
Dr Khor said one practical way to make healthcare more accessible and convenient for all is to have nursing homes and eldercare facilities in the community.
She highlighted the work of St Joseph's Home (SJH), which she visited last Friday, in improving the lives of its residents and reaching out to the community.
Dr Khor said she was struck by its mission "no one dies alone".
"The sisters and nurses carry out this mission by spending long hours at the bedside of residents who are very ill in order to provide dignity, support and comfort to them on their final journey. Despite the emotional strain of such work, the sisters showed amazing patience and fortitude," she said.
Dr Khor pointed out that the home sits in a serene environment and has a resort-like feel that belies the fact that it is a nursing home located very close to some HDB estates.
"SJH's simple but comfortable and clean surroundings house 125 nursing home beds and 14 hospice inpatient beds," said Dr Khor. "Sister Geraldine, who is SJH's administrator, shared her belief that 'healthcare goes beyond the structure'."
"The sisters in the home befriend and mingle with the elderly in the neighbourhood and conduct some home visits as part of their community outreach programme," she added.
"Through these visits, not only do the sisters spread happiness and comfort to the elderly, they also engage caregivers and gain insights into their concerns and difficulties,"
She also saw some students spending time with the elderly at the home.
"One student was even teaching the elderly how to use the iPad! I spoke to two student volunteers who shared that they came to the home on a weekly basis as it was just a convenient 10-minute bus ride away," said Dr Khor.
"This is the kind of volunteerism we want to promote. This works both ways. By starting early we can help to bridge the generations and imbue our young with a sense of purposeful community service towards others less privileged."
"At the same time, it is also important to encourage eldercare administrators to engage people of all ages," she continued.
"In this way, the community will see such facilities as part of the infrastructure, and not as an added burden."
SJH, which was set up by the Catholic Welfare Services in 1978 to provide nursing home and hospice services, plans to roll out more initiatives.
One is a "Dusk-to-Dawn" programme, which will be Singapore's first dedicated evening and overnight respite service sited within a nursing home.
It also plans to expand and provide additional services, such as formative training programmes for new nurses, as well as encourage residents such as back-to-work housewives to work part-time at the home or to volunteer as befrienders.
Dr Khor's comments follow the Ministry of Health's decision to go ahead with plans to build the Lions Home for the Elders, at Bishan Street 13, amid concerns and unhappiness from some residents.
MOH said it would cap the nursing home at six storeys and seek their views on design and other issues.