Monday 6 February 2012

Unease over elder-care centre in void decks - Not in my backyard

MOH to review plan after residents voice opposition
By Janice Tai & Peter Wong, The Straits Times, 3 Feb 2012

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) will review plans to build a day-care centre for the elderly in the void decks of two facing Housing Board blocks in Woodlands, after residents there petitioned against the move.

Some argued that the area was already overcrowded with other public facilities. Others cited concerns like increased traffic, and how such a centre would be 'inauspicious' as it may mean more deaths in the estate.

The ministry's promise came even as Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told netizens that such centres were necessary to provide the elderly with a convenient place near their homes for them to stay active and engaged.

He said the ministry should always take into account the views of all parties and find the best solutions, but cautioned: 'We may not be able to satisfy everyone, and some sensible compromises may have to be made. Hope to have understanding from those affected.'

He noted that some of these facilities for the aged may be built on vacant land next to transport hubs, as some had suggested.

'But given the ageing population, we may need more facilities within the community,' he said on his Facebook page.

The 570 sq m centre was to be built at the void decks of blocks 860 and 861 in Woodlands Street 83, which are near the Woodlands MRT station. It will be run by Sree Narayana Mission, a charity.

Construction work was to start in April but will now be put on hold.

The Health Ministry has said it will build more day-care centres so that elderly Singaporeans can remain in a familiar environment, instead of spending their final days in nursing homes.

Children can leave their parents at the centres when they go to work, and pick them up at night.

There are currently 54 such centres for the elderly in housing estates, of which 41 are situated in HDB void decks.

Residents in the two Woodlands blocks said they first knew of the centre on Dec 22 last year when Sree Narayana Mission sent them a notice to inform them of the upcoming construction work.

Upset residents from Block 861 then started a petition which was sent to their MP, Ms Ellen Lee, on Jan 3.

It was signed by members of 53 households out of the 60 units in the block. Only about five residents from Block 860 signed the petition because it was not publicised in that block.

The petition cited eight reasons for opposing the plan, such as how residents would be deprived of a gathering area in the block.

They also claimed there are not many elderly people living in these two blocks.

They were also concerned that with such a centre, there might be more deaths in the area, which would be inauspicious and result in emotional stress.

Said housewife Katherine Yong, 35, who lives in Block 861: 'I support the building of this elder-care centre. But maybe they should construct it somewhere else less crowded.'

Fellow resident Jenny Chan, 45, agreed. 'The void decks in the area are all occupied already. There is a residents' committee (office) at Block 862, a childcare (centre) at Block 863, a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) outpost at Block 859 and a kindergarten at Block 858,' she said.

Retiree Cheong Peng Kiat, 68, said: 'I am old and I feel that this would benefit me greatly. But I am upset that we were not given a chance to air our views and opinions.'

When contacted, their MP Ellen Lee said: 'While I understand their concerns, the void deck is common space and approval need not be sought from the residents. 'We also need to consider the needs of the greater majority who will require such services.'

But some residents were not convinced.

Last night, about 25 residents from Block 861 met at the void deck to discuss the matter. They said they would propose a list of alternative locations.

Several empty plots of land nearby would make better sites for the centre, they argued.

Some MPs noted that it was not uncommon for residents to be concerned when facilities like these centres are built.

'Residents are justifiably concerned about their living environment,' said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Alex Yam.

'But we are an ageing society and we must have the care centres somewhere. If we don't confront this issue now, this might lead to problems downstream.'

Other MPs said that it is impossible to please everyone.

Said Mr David Ong, MP for Jurong GRC: 'It's similar to the Lift Upgrading Programme. There will always be opposition to it from residents.'

Not in my backyard

SOME recent examples of residents protesting against plans to build public facilities near their homes:

September 2011: Plans to relocate Ren Ci Nursing Home from its current site in Jalan Tan Tock Seng to Bukit Batok hit a roadblock when upset residents voiced concerns over possible noise and the loss of an existing fitness corner. The Ministry of Health went ahead with the move, but set aside space for recreational activities.

June 2011: Work on the new Downtown Line Stage2 was stalled for a month due to opposition from residents of Maplewoods condominium in Bukit Timah.
They were upset that the launch shaft site, which facilitates the digging of two underground tunnels for the new MRT line, is located at the only exit point of the condo.

Steps were taken to remedy their concerns.

June 2010: Residents' opposition stalled NTUC First Campus plans to build a My First Skool Childcare Centre at the void deck of Block 602, Choa Chu Kang Street6.

Residents said it would deprive them of their right to enjoy the void deck, among other things.

But the centre was eventually built there.

Seniors' centre at void deck? No problem
Day-care operators say most residents do not mind, and it's vital to correct misconceptions
By Tay Suan Chiang & Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

MOST residents are not opposed to having elder-care centres near their homes, said operators. But some may have reservations because of misconceptions about these facilities.

Day-care operators The Straits Times spoke to yesterday said they did not face strong objections from residents when they set up such centres in the void decks of HDB blocks.

This is in contrast to the ongoing opposition put up by some Woodlands residents, who have petitioned against the building of a day-care centre at their void decks.

They cited reasons like how such a centre would be 'inauspicious' as it may mean more deaths in the estate.

Day-care operators said it was important to reach out to the community so residents understand better what these centres do.

Mr Eddie Teo, a supervisor at the NTUC Eldercare day-care centre in Fengshan, said it is a misconception that people die at such facilities.

NTUC Eldercare, which is one of the bigger operators here, runs eight day-care centres, all at void decks of HDB blocks.

'Unlike hospices or nursing homes, the elderly who come here are all in stable medical condition and are constantly supervised by therapists,' said Mr Teo. 'Besides, they are here for only a few hours a day.'

Day-care centres usually open on weekdays from 7.30am to 6.30pm, and take in both frail and healthy senior citizens.

At the centres, the elderly exercise to help improve their mobility. In the afternoon, they watch TV, play mahjong, sing karaoke or play games that improve their agility.

NTUC Eldercare organises an event for residents a year before the centre opens, to give them a better understanding of day-care centres. It also has a volunteer programme where housewives visit the centre to chat with the elderly.

Other operators have also embarked on similar efforts.

When Ms Joyce Lye, founder of Kampung Senang Charity and Education Foundation, was setting up a day-care centre for seniors in Tampines 13 years ago, she visited residents of the block to explain what the facility was about.

'Most of the residents accepted the idea, but there were a handful who were worried that the centre would transmit diseases,' said Ms Lye, 60. 'We had to educate them that they would not catch infectious diseases from the centre.'

The foundation has one day-care centre for the elderly.

Another major service provider, St Luke's ElderCare, opens up some of its facilities for a minimal charge of $2.50 per visit to other residents who are not users of its day-care centres.

It has 11 day-care centres, mostly in mature estates with a significant number of elderly people, such as Hougang and Serangoon. All except one are located at void decks.

Residents who are above 40 can use the health and fitness facilities of the day-care centre during off-peak hours - 7.30am to 10am, and 4pm to 9pm.

Said Mr Henry Teo, 57, a senior manager at St Luke's ElderCare: 'They can come in and use the exercise equipment before work, when our seniors have not arrived, and after work, when our seniors have gone home.

'Some of the residents have a 'What's in it for me' mentality, so we need to constantly find services that will benefit them, especially if they have no seniors at home.'

When The Straits Times visited four elder-care centres yesterday, the mood at these places was a cheery one, as the Chinese New Year festivities were still ongoing. All four centres were bright, airy, and clean.

Madam Margarat Hoh, 74, who has been going to NTUC Eldercare's Fengshan centre for the past one year, was initially resistant to the idea of going for day care.

But she has enjoyed her time at the centre. 'My children and I may be moving out next year, but I told them to get a place nearby so that I can continue to come here,' she said.

Some residents living near day-care centres also welcome these facilities.

Redhill resident Eden Araneta, 37, has had no problems with an elder-care centre in her estate. 'I feel more comfortable about the presence of the elderly engaged in activities than that of loitering youngsters,' said the kindergarten teacher.

Added retiree Cynthia Tan, 60, who has a day-care centre at the void deck of her block in Bedok: 'Our property prices may drop, and neighbours don't really have space to gather to chit-chat. But it may benefit some elderly people, and perhaps myself in future, so it is something I can live with.'

Seniors to get more facilities near homes

MORE facilities for elder care will be built near residential homes in the next few years to cater to an ageing population.

But the Health Ministry said it will work with the local MP to address the concerns of residents when building such facilities.

These are the main types of facilities:

Community hospitals: There are now six. Two more will be opened, in Jurong and Yishun, from 2014 to 2015.

Day-care centres for the elderly: There are currently 54 centres, including rehabilitation centres. Of these, 41 are situated at the void decks of HDB flats.

By 2020, the ministry plans to triple the number of day-care places near residential estates from 2,100 to about 6,200. This could mean building some 80 new centres, with each centre offering about 50 places.

This will benefit more than 8,000 seniors, up from the 2,800 served today.

Senior activity centres: There are now 41 such centres. Most are located at the void decks of HDB blocks.

Unlike day-care centres which also look after frail or disabled elderly folk, these centres cater to the healthier ones, running free social and recreational programmes for them.

By 2020, more senior activity centres will also be built to serve up to 48,000 seniors, up from the current 18,000 seniors.

When planning where to build elder-care centres, the ministry said it considers the following key factors:
- The demography of each region
- Adequacy of existing elder-care services in the surrounding areas
- Availability of space in each area.

Said a ministry spokesman: 'We will try to balance the needs of the residents with the needs of our ageing population.'

Not in my backyard?
Editorial, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

RESIDENTS of a precinct of Woodlands who oppose the construction of an elderly day care centre in their void deck are being short-sighted. They refuse to come face to face with a simple reality affecting not just others in neighbourhoods elsewhere, but the country as a whole: Singaporeans are ageing and the numbers are growing. And it is becoming increasingly important for society as a whole - not just the Government, charity groups, volunteers and other assorted do-gooders - to start the process of catering for that growing inevitability. This must surely include having a network of facilities that are within reach - whether it is a medical clinic, day care, health or rehabilitation centres - and which cater to the demands of affected residents and their families. What better location than at their doorstep?

The blinkered view is from those who say that these are not needed in their area because they do not have a high percentage of elderly residents in their midst. They argue about the facilities depressing the property value of their homes, increased traffic - and bizarrely, an increase in the number of deaths. That misses the point. Such centres cater to those already in the area, providing working families with the convenience of dropping off an elderly relative to be safe and secure in familiar surroundings for much of the day. Hence there is also little likelihood of an increase in traffic. There already are 54 similar centres across Singapore - 41 of them are in void decks, and residents appear at ease with their presence. Property agencies interviewed previously by this newspaper say they have not come across instances of property values dropping when facilities such as nursing homes are built nearby. In fact the siting of care facilities could well be an asset - as the detractors will come to realise when they and their family members age and need a care facility within easy reach.

The attitude of those who are opposed to what are undoubtedly useful and shared community facilities is troubling because of what it indicates about the outlook they have towards the elderly, and the broader goal of developing a caring society. The good news is that the Woodlands situation is not beyond resolution. MP Ellen Lee, the Health Ministry and the Sree Narayana Mission, which will run the proposed centre, will no doubt work to reach a sensible compromise to the impasse. But what needs to be made clear to residents here, and elsewhere when similar cases arise, is that solutions cannot lie in offloading the problem to another precinct. There has to be an acceptance that such facilities will increasingly have to be placed in their own backyard.

* Elder-care centre that sparked 'nimby' debate opens
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2013

The Woodlands elder-care centre that triggered last year's "not-in-my-backyard" row opened yesterday with great fanfare.

People living in the area were treated to a lion dance and other performances. This was in sharp contrast to the controversy that broke out last February after 90 per cent of the residents in one block launched a petition against the centre. They were concerned about losing their communal space.

This sparked a public debate over the "not-in-my-backyard" syndrome, also known as nimbyism.

Yesterday, Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan and Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee toured the facility with grassroots leaders. The centre - which is due to start operating tomorrow - is designed to provide day care for up to 50 seniors and will be run by the Sree Narayana Mission.

Located at the void decks of Blocks 860 and 861 in Woodlands Street 83, the centre has a living room, dining room and pantry areas. There are also a multi-sensory room with synthetic grass underfoot, lava lamps, aromatherapy and music - all designed to give the elderly clients a calm place to relax.

Following the controversy last year, a study corner for residents was built into the centre. They were also promised a sheltered walkway and community garden.

Ms Lee told The Sunday Times she was very grateful for the residents' understanding and tolerance. "I thank them for the concerns they have raised," she said. "Because of that, we were able to work with them on what should go into this building."

Madam Koh Eng New, who lives in Block 861, said that she disagreed with her neighbours' opposition to the centre.

The 60-year-old housewife said it would help to prevent senior citizens from feeling lonely. "I'm growing old myself. Maybe next time I can come here too," she joked.

Sree Narayana Mission president Swapna Dayanandan also thanked Woodlands residents in her speech at the opening. She said: "We're appreciative of their whole-hearted embrace. As the new kid on the block, we were welcomed."


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