Sunday 29 January 2012

Government to focus on elder care in 2012: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong

Overwhelming demand for such services, says Gan in his blog
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2012

THE Salvation Army runs day care, dementia and rehabilitative services in Bedok, and also provides nursing care for nearby residents in the comfort of their own homes.

Demand for such services is overwhelming, noted Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday, in a posting on his blog, Health Matters.

But he was citing examples of such services in Bedok only to underscore the importance of tackling the issue of care for the aged on a national scale as well.

This will, in fact, be an area his ministry will focus on this year.

He said: 'Aged care involves not just responding to the functional or health-related issues of our seniors, but their social and emotional needs as well.

'Ultimately, what matters is the quality of life they have as they age.'

This is the second of three blogs from his ministry ahead of the unveiling of the Budget statement on Feb 17.

The Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA), which he also heads, plans to build in the heartland more centres like The Salvation Army's Multi-Service Centre in Bedok.

This is in line with the push to have the elderly 'age in place', that is, grow old in their own home, instead of in an institution.

Mr Gan, who took over the health and MCA portfolios last year, added: 'Even as we all age or become frail, we will want to be cared for at home and be together with our loved ones.'

It is for this reason that the MCA will spearhead the building of more day-care centres in residential areas.

He told The Straits Times: 'When I visited the Salvation Army centre in Bedok, it appeared very popular with the residents there, and was operating at full capacity.'

The new day-care centres are likely to be bigger than the existing ones and provide a range of services and facilities, for both the elderly who are still functional and healthy, and those in need of care.

These centres will be where they can socialise, as well as get nursing and other rehabilitative services, even as they continue living with their families.

By 2020, the number of elderly folk they will cater to should be three times the 2,100 that the existing centres now handle.

As Mr Gan said in his blog: 'Seniors living with their children who are working can then be supported by these centres, while their children have the peace of mind that their parents are being cared for by professional staff in the day.'

He said the two-month-old Touch Home Care centre, operating out of a void deck in Jurong, sends out housewives and nurses in the area to provide housekeeping services and nursing care to patients at their own homes.

Touch runs a similar centre in Toa Payoh, which delivers home-based care to patients there.

The two centres hire four housewives with time on their hands to do housekeeping or escort their elderly charges to their medical appointments.

The centres also have five doctors and 15 nurses to provide care to the homebound at between $35 and $55 per visit.

Former nurse Yvonne Low, 40, who quit her career six years ago for motherhood, is a now a nurse with Touch in the mornings, when her three children are in school.

In the 30 minutes to 45 minutes she spends with each patient, she may tend to a wound or change a urinary catheter.

With care providers such as The Salvation Army and Touch strapped for manpower, Mr Gan said the Government will work with them to alleviate the problem.

'This will, in turn, make home and community-based care a more viable option for Singaporeans,' he said.

His ministry is also looking into providing patients with better care following their discharge from hospital, to forestall the deterioration of their conditions and making readmission to hospital necessary.

Mr Gan also disclosed in his blog that the nursing homes to be built between now and 2020, which will provide 6,600 additional beds, may also extend their rehabilitative services to those living nearby.

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