Friday 28 March 2014

Wanted: More home care staff

Rising demand for such services sees scramble to find quality manpower
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

DEMAND for home care services is booming, causing a scramble among care operators to attract more quality manpower.

One of the largest players is NTUC Eldercare, which saw a 50 per cent increase in client numbers last year. It has about 100 care officers and is planning to nearly double this number in six years' time.

Another voluntary welfare group, Touch Community Services, wants to add 20 care staff to its current 76 by the end of the year. It had about 1,600 clients last year, a 20 per cent increase from 2012.

Home care patients are typically wheelchair-bound or bedridden and need help for daily tasks such as changing, bathing, or eating. Caregivers also conduct simple exercise sessions and in many cases lend a listening ear.

"It is not always easy or pleasant to do the job of caregiving to the elderly," said Ms Pang Sze Yunn of NTUC Eldercare, which began offering home care services in 2007. "So the sector as a whole may not attract as many workers as we need."

About 65 per cent of its care staff are part-timers who go through an in-house training programme which teaches them basic care techniques.

Many are housewives who are attracted by the flexible working hours.

"It allows them to meet the needs of their families while doing something meaningful for the community in their spare time," Ms Pang noted. "In addition, we try to match them with clients whose homes are located close to where they live."

Touch Home Care "taps into community resources" when it needs that little bit of extra manpower, such as by enlisting the help of neighbourhood GPs or locum nurses.

Its personal carers go through on-the-job training programmes to "better manage issues faced on the ground".

The organisation meets the home care needs of Toa Payoh, Jurong, and the outlying neighbourhoods, and is "reaching maximum capacity".

"We expect to see a waiting list for our services if new bases are not available soon," said Mr Kavin Seow, director of home care and caregiver services at Touch Community Services.

His conservative estimate is that demand will increase by 20 per cent each year.

Plans to expand into two other heartland areas by the middle of next year will allow the organisation to expand its manpower base, he said.

The Health Ministry (MOH) is looking to attract new faces to join the eldercare sector, especially mid-career professionals, retirees and housewives.

"As MOH expands the aged care sector... there will be ample new jobs that offer flexible work hours close to home," an MOH spokesman said.

Meanwhile, some private operators, like Active Global Specialised Caregivers, have managed to circumvent the manpower crunch by recruiting extensively from countries such as India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

Its caregivers live with their clients, providing round-the-clock care. About 50 are deployed at any one time.

Founder Yorelle Kalika said the company is also looking into hiring foreign manpower for respite care, which allows family members or full-time caregivers to take a break for a short period.

"Right now, all our respite care givers are local nurses who do freelance caregiving assignments for our clients," she said. "We are often very short-handed on this front."

She's a Vitally Important Person to four elderly people
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

WITH her two children grown up and more spare time, Ms Polly Tan decided to lavish her attention on people she felt really needed it.

That seemingly simple decision about two years ago has evolved to the point where Ms Tan, 52, is now a vitally important person in the lives of four elderly people.

It's an undertaking that brings enormous gratification but also enormous demands. The job can be "very tough", noted Ms Tan, who has had to move patients more than 20kg heavier than herself.

"If you don't handle it properly, both parties can get injured, but we are trained."

There have been other testing times, too. Some of her clients have died within a few weeks of their meeting, often after long bouts with cancer.

"During the time of our stay we just give them our very best."

Apart from tending to physical needs like bathing or exercise, she also tries to forge an emotional connection during her home visits.

"I talk to them, sing songs, or play games with them. A lot of them are lonely and need companionship."

One is blind and unable to walk, while most have family members who are working and cannot care for them during the day. Ms Tan, who works for NTUC Eldercare, visits each of her clients once or twice a week for two hours at a time.

The Straits Times understands that part-time caregivers are usually paid between $10 and $20 an hour.

But Ms Tan is not in it for the money. Instead, she likes the flexible working hours.

"I have time to do other things, like cook for my family or spend time with my children."

And her job as a caregiver allows her to spend time with those who need a listening ear.

"All of them at that age struggle," she said, "they need people to shower more care on them."

Live-in caregiver feels emotional pull
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2014

FORMER nurse Jil Manikandan spent 10 years working in a hospital but that experience still did not prepare her for the emotional challenges of being a live-in caregiver.

"It's totally different," she said. "In the hospital, patients come and go. You have no mental attachment to the patient."

The emotional difficulties hit home last year when a patient she was looking after died. The Indian national, who first came here in June last year, returned home but came back to Singapore in January to care for dementia patient Susan Ong, 90.

She lives in Madam Ong's flat in the Mountbatten area, helping with her client's daily personal needs, such as bathing, and helping her deal with daily life.

The thing to remember as a caregiver, Mrs Manikandan, 30, said is that the elderly "have their own moods".

"If they are in a bad mood, you cannot stress them or force them. They get very distressed. Just wait for 10 to 15 minutes, and they will be fine."

Ms Manikandan earns about $700 a month, which is paid directly to her by her employer.

Active Global Specialised Caregivers recruited her directly from India. She did not have to pay agents' fees, which could amount to as much as six months of her salary.

Despite her nursing background in India, Singapore law mandates that Ms Manikandan cannot provide home nursing services. Only nurses registered with the Singapore Nursing Board can practise here.

Yet her experience in the field means she is able to provide much more specialised care than an ordinary maid.

And even though housework is not within her job scope, she does it anyway.

"I treat this house as my house," she said.

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