Sunday 20 May 2012

Red Cross Home for the Disabled

Both a home and a lifeline for the disabled
Red Cross facility is the only one here that offers disabled adults and children a residential programme
By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 19 May 2012

MR YEOW Ping Chiou is hanging on to the exercise bars for dear life. The 38-year-old, who suffers from cerebral palsy and mental retardation, is in the middle of his physical therapy session at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD).

'Come on, Ping Chiou,' a staff worker says as she coaxes him to loosen his grip on the bars.

Mr Yeow finally relaxes, becomes less frantic.

A full-time resident since the age of 15, he is one of the home's longest-staying members. For him and its other residents, RCHD - like the exercise bars - is a lifeline of sorts as it provides round-the-clock care for those afflicted with severe or multiple disabilities.

Originally known as the Red Cross Home for Crippled Children in the 1940s, RCHD moved to Elizabeth Drive in 1988 before settling into a new 5,500 sq m facility at Lengkok Bahru in 2010.

It cares for 92 residents - 84 adults and eight children - although the facility can take 130 full-time residents. Many of the residents are bedridden or in wheelchairs.

A team of 44 nurses and health-care aides care for the residents 24/7. The work is tough: The staff feed and bathe them and, six times a day, change the diapers of those who need to wear them. The staff also accompany the residents to therapy sessions and on group outings.

'It's a very challenging work environment,' said Ms Thong Swee Kam, a 70-year-old nurse who has worked at the home for 10 years.

'(But) we have to care for them and give them love as much as possible.'

RCHD is not just one of the few options available in Singapore for people with severe disabilities, it is also the only home for disabled adults and children that offers a residential programme, said Singapore Red Cross secretary-general Benjamin Jeyaraj William.

It thus 'caters to the most vulnerable', he said.

Mr Yeow's older brother, Ping Seng, 48, talked about the lack of alternatives in 1989 - when he was looking for a home where he could place his brother. Voluntary welfare organisations offered only short-term stays, he said.

'He was too much for us to handle at home. At RCHD, there are full-time nurses who can take care of him, and that's reassuring,' he said.

Mrs Florence Koh, 72, and her husband Ronnie, 82, found themselves in a similar situation five years ago.

They had cared for their son Peter, who is mute and immobile, at home for 42 years, but they realised that they were getting too old to manage on their own.

Mrs Koh and her storekeeper husband placed Peter, who is now 49, in the home in 2007.

'It changed my life,' said Mrs Koh. 'I was like a caged animal before; it freed up my life.'

Almost all of the 92 residents at RCHD receive subsidies from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

Based on means testing, the ministry subsidises up to 75 per cent of the home's average monthly fee of $1,500. If the families - many of them disadvantaged - still cannot foot the bill, the Red Cross raises funds to bridge the difference.

The parents of another long-time resident, Mr Tham Meng Fai, now 32, placed him in the home when he was barely 10 years old.

Both were cleaners and could not afford to stay home to take care of him.

For 22 years, they have continued to visit their son - who has cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia - every week at RCHD.

On the weekends, they take him home.

Other residents receive fewer visits. The head of RCHD, Ms Fauziah Bte Jabil, who is also a nurse, said the home sees fewer than 10 family visitors every week.

'We always welcome volunteers who want to visit the home, so they can help to fill this gap,' she said, acknowledging the efforts of the individuals and groups who visit regularly.

Many of the residents at RCHD will probably spend the rest of their lives there.

Although they might not be able to communicate or interact with other people in the normal sense, 'it is a better place (for them)', said Ms Jamil.

'They will not be alone.'

Singapore Red Cross' big first-aid push
By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 19 May 2012

THE Singapore Red Cross (SRC) has an image problem. People think it is an international humanitarian group with little local presence, said its secretary-general Benjamin Jeyaraj William.

Yes, 'we respond to international disasters, and we will continue to do that', he told The Straits Times in a recent interview.

'But our important mission is to help Singaporeans who are vulnerable.'

To raise its local profile, the SRC wants to get more Singaporeans certified in first aid.

It will also explore new ways to help the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged in Singapore, Mr William said.

The message is being put out today as the group celebrates World Red Cross Day - though, technically, the official date was two weeks ago - at an all-day event in East Coast Park whose theme is First Aid and Youth On the Move.

During the event, the SRC will launch a new location- based, mobile app that links people who need help to others nearby who know first aid.

There will also be a mass demonstration of first-aid skills and other educational activities.

The group's goal, said Mr William, is to get a first aider in every home.

Why such a big push for first aid?

An SRC spokesman said Singapore may be lagging behind other developed countries in terms of the number of people who are first-aid certified, and the general awareness level of first aid.

First aid and disaster relief, for instance, is a part of the Japanese school syllabus. Because Singapore is not prone to natural disasters, people here may feel a sense of complacency, Mr William said.

He added that the SRC will work with the Ministry of Health to train people to be qualified first responders in accident cases.

Apart from first aid, the SRC is also extending its reach to the elderly and disabled, by possibly extending to them its transport services.

It may even open more day activity centres besides the current two.

These plans are part of its efforts to engage Singaporeans.

Though the humanitarian group has been able to meet its targets - for both donor funds and number of volunteers - in previous years, Mr William said these expanded activities will mean it needs more and regular donations.

The organisation also wants to recruit more volunteers, as well as persuade existing ones to be more active, he said.
'It's important for us to maintain our domestic relevance...

'We have a special role,' he added.

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