The Saturday special report “The Home Stretch” (September 17, 2011) by Mr. Samuel He: following a string of bad publicity and a plethora of preconceived notions about these institutions, it is refreshing to read about a different perspective on nursing homes in Singapore. Despite the relatively pleasant living conditions – from well-catered meals to various therapy sessions – it might be discomforting for some to contemplate having such a lifestyle in the future in their later years. These arrangements might be applicable and feasible for individuals who have no members to fall upon, or for those who struggle with complex physical disabilities or psychological disorders; however, it is imperative for the administration – beyond raising the supply of beds – to curb demand levels, and progressively get families involved in the care and rehabilitation processes.
What The Government Can Do
There is always a stigma associated with children who send their elderly parents to nursing homes; an environment that boasts of institution-like surroundings which may be distasteful to many. However, not many are cognisant that destitute residents have no other place to turn to, and families – especially those that have comparatively low per capita income – struggle to provide comprehensive assistance for long-term medical problems like dementia. Steps should be taken to distinguish between these cases, and those “private cases” in which families have the ability to look after their relatives.
At the present moment, the most immediate and pressing challenge for the Government would be to provide for more infrastructure, manpower and resources for the development of new nursing homes and corresponding beds, given the rapidly ageing population in Singapore. The plans for relocation and building 1,000 additional beds would be barely sufficient – in the years to come – to account for the growing care crunch faced by stakeholders. Even if the hardware can be supplied, it appears physically impossible for the number of quality nurses and social workers to keep up with the pace.
What Families Should Do
Voluntary welfare organisations (VWO) can be strengthened – financially and administratively – for them to provide for more well-rounded services not just in the respective nursing homes, but also to encourage families to take greater ownership and responsibilities whenever possible. This may be difficult for those residents with unidentified family backgrounds, but the “Many Helping Hands” approach can be expanded and extended to help households care adequately for their elderly members; by themselves, if possible. Arrangements and options should be regularly explored.
For aforementioned cases in which children are present, but staunchly refuse to undertake these financial or physical responsibilities, efforts should be taken to engage families in the entire process. Even in extraordinary circumstances – taking into account heavy fiscal burdens, strained relationships and personal commitments – family support must be ensured whenever possible to aid the patient psychologically. When difficulties increase, nursing homes must be viewed seriously as a last resort, and not a convenient alternative.