Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Pilot seniors' group home well-received

Residents enjoy freedom of living independently in a safe community 
By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2012

IT HAS been half a year since its opening and the Thye Hua Kwan (THK) Seniors Group Home is almost full, with 19 residents calling it home. Its full capacity is 21.

Located in eight one-room flats on the seventh floor of Block 94 in Pipit Road, the pilot project allows seniors to share space and live independently in the community. They must be aged 65 and above, require minimal living assistance and have little family support.

"We want to prevent premature institutionalisation," said THK divisional director Satyaprakash Tiwari, noting that the home is a good example of "ageing in place" - where people live out their last years in the community rather than in institutions.

The home is co-funded by the Government and THK. Seven units house three seniors each, while another unit is used as an office and as a common activity room for residents. The units are fully furnished with beds and TV sets.

The current options for the elderly are basically living at home or nursing homes.

Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, said earlier this year that there could be 83,000 seniors living alone by 2030, and that expanding the role of senior activity centres would be important.

THK leases the units from the Housing Board. The block is also home to families who live in rental flats.

At the THK facility, occupants are free to pursue their own interests, including going out and dining out. However, they can opt for meal delivery too. One full-time employee keeps tabs on them, making sure, for example, that they take their medication.

The residents, who are mostly referrals from case workers and hospitals, pay $50 a month. The money comes from their savings, family contributions or, for some, public assistance from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS).

There is no limit on how long they can stay and they are also free to move out at any time.

So far, the residents - most of whom have nowhere else to go - seem happy with their new home. Fifteen of the residents are men.

One of the women residents, Madam Ng Wok Luan, 74, was picked up as a vagrant by the police before she was referred to the home in February.

"I can live independently, visit my friends and go for walks," said the former store helper. The widow added that she does not get along with her seven children and used to camp out in void decks.

Another resident, Mr Leong Kam Choon, 76, a former odd-job worker, said he spent 10 years cooped up at his son's home.

A case worker paved the way for him to move to the home in February.

"Freedom is the most important thing to me and I'm experiencing it now," said Mr Leong, who likes to visit a nearby senior activity centre for exercise and interaction with others.

Mr Suparman Munadi, 74, who moved in last month, was referred after a fall. He used to put up with siblings and friends, rotating his stays."I have more friends now, more people to talk to," he said of the home.

Said Mr Tiwari of the elderly residents' newfound stability: "They have mailing addresses now." It is also the first step, he added, towards getting public assistance for some.

In addition to CCTV cameras, another safety aid comes in the form of a panic button strapped on the senior's wrist. They have been activated thrice so far but all were false alarms.

Mr Tiwari said the scheme has drawn interest, with up to 10 inquiries a month. Its success makes him hopeful it can be replicated.

"It's valuable, sustainable, with minimum support and cost," he said, adding that two more staff members will be added to the home in the coming months.

While residents in areas like Toh Yi, Woodlands, Jalan Batu and Bishan argued against the construction of facilities for the elderly earlier this year, there were no complaints about this project.

An MCYS spokesman said it has received positive feedback.

The next cluster of senior group homes - to be operated by NTUC Eldercare - is undergoing renovation. Located in Block 117 in Bukit Merah View, it is scheduled to open in December.

Affordable and safe
- The Thye Hua Kwan Seniors Group Home, located in eight one-room flats in Block 94 in Pipit Road, can house 21 seniors. 
- The residents pay $50 a month and can stay for as long as they want. 
- Occupants are free to pursue their own interests, but a full-time employee keeps tabs on them, making sure they take their medication.


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