Sunday, 20 April 2014

More help for lone seniors under new eldercare system

Island to be divided into zones, with each overseen by an anchor operator
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2014

BY THE end of the year, seniors who live alone and need help will be more likely to receive it, with a more coordinated system helmed by key eldercare providers.

This is crucial because the number of seniors living alone is expected to grow from 35,000 in 2012, to 83,000 by 2030.

Under the new system, the island will be divided into zones. Community eldercare in each zone will be overseen by an anchor operator appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Each zone will contain up to five senior activity centres, which used to mainly run social and recreational activities for seniors, and three senior group homes, where elderly residents with little or no family support live together.

Existing facilities run by other eldercare providers can continue to operate, supported by the anchor operators. But new centres and group homes in each zone can be set up only by its anchor operator, said eldercare providers.

In each zone, a main centre, with about five case managers who have social work experience, will support the others. The case managers will counsel vulnerable elderly and visit them at home.

Since 2012, the MSF has set up 10 such clusters from the existing 58 senior activity centres. Its target is to have 16 clusters by 2016 to support about 39,000 seniors.

This comes as more centres and group homes are being built. The number of group homes will rise from two now to 60 by 2016.

The Straits Times understands that at least three major eldercare providers are in talks with the MSF to form the first batch of anchor operators and roll out this system later this year.

Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities is likely to take care of Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah/Outram. Lions Befrienders will probably lead Queenstown/Clementi, while Touch Community Services will head the central region.

Industry players say this is a landmark move as it changes the model of help from one that requires the elderly to take the initiative if they need help, to one that brings aid to their doorstep.

"Some elderly people may not be able to come to us even though they need help.

"So, if every block is covered within a zone where home visits are done, the likelihood of vulnerable elderly being overlooked is slim," said Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities divisional director Joseph Cheong.

The centres did not do home visits in the past as they lacked expertise and manpower.

Under the new system, retirees and housewives will be roped in to do so a few times a week, for $5 per visit. They will refer seniors who need help to case managers.

The MSF said it is finalising the implementation details and will provide more information later.

The anchor operator concept has been tested in the pre-school sector. The five pre-school anchor operators get government grants to ramp up the number of childcare centre places, keep fees low and provide quality services.

However, their centres are not limited to specific regions.

Taking charge of certain zones will help eldercare providers better monitor frail or homebound elderly, and help them access the myriad of services in those zones, industry players said.

Senior activity centres and senior group homes in one area would have stronger synergy from being run by the same eldercare provider, Lions Befrienders executive director Goh Boo Han said.

For instance, a group home may house a centre in its void deck. "The seniors living in the home can come down to the centre for activities and its staff can look out for them," Mr Goh said.

The centres used to reach out only to rental flat residents, but with the extra hands on deck, some, such as Touch Seniors Activity Centre, now cater to others.

Its director, Ms Julia Lee, said: "If we want to enable our seniors to continue growing old in the community, then there needs to be enough support services for them at the estate level."


Some elderly people may not be able to come to us even though they need help. So, if every block is covered within a zone where home visits are done, the likelihood of vulnerable elderly being overlooked is slim.

- Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities divisional director Joseph Cheong

Tap neighbourly spirit to help seniors in need
By Loh Keng Fatt, The Sunday Times, 20 Apr 2014

My first job was as a welfare officer at the then Ministry of Social Affairs, and one project my section rolled out in the mid-1980s was called the Befrienders scheme.

Even before Singapore's ageing population had become a major worry and talking point, it was noticed that older people who lived alone or with another elderly person could benefit from some form of community support.

The scheme roped in neighbours to keep an eye on the old folk whom most volunteers were already familiar with.

Since they lived in the same block or nearby, both parties were more likely to build and sustain rapport, with the befriender helping to care for the senior by also accompanying him to visit the doctor or on an outing.

My colleagues had found that this model worked better than having volunteers from outside the neighbourhood visit the seniors occasionally.

Some old folk were suspicious of such outsiders - even well-meaning ones. They had their pride and were not comfortable opening their flats and sharing their personal problems with unfamiliar faces.

But a neighbour was different and would be close at hand if needed in an emergency.

The scheme was rolled out in a number of places - Kreta Ayer, Tiong Bahru and Kolam Ayer, among them - and was handed over to three Lions Clubs in Singapore under a "many helping hands" initiative by the then Ministry of Community Development - in 1995.

Today, the Lions Befrienders - arguably the country's largest direct service voluntary welfare organisation - has about 1,000 volunteers who keep tabs on some 3,000 vulnerable seniors.

I was happy the other day to find out that a similar project had also taken root in the South East District since last July.

Called the Neighbours For Active Living Programme, it has signed up 50 volunteers to reach out to more than 200 elderly folk - including the frail and those who live alone - in Bedok, Siglap and Marine Parade.

Volunteers are matched with seniors in their neighbourhood and their responsibilities include reminding the elderly to take their medicines and go for health checks. I presume, if there's a need, they would not mind taking the elderly person to the hospital or helping to run some urgent errands.

While this scheme targets those who live alone or with another aged person, there is scope to expand it to include seniors whose children live with them but are away at work for most of the day.

The issue of adults looking after their aged parents has lately spawned the question of whether the Government should come up with eldercare leave.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said the Government should seriously consider such paid days off for workers, especially those coping with caring for their children as well as elderly parents.

Here is where programmes like the Befrienders scheme could plug the gap by meeting the needs of elderly folk who are not entirely helpless but may welcome help to get to their medical appointments, for example.

The volunteers could step in when the elderly person's family members cannot spare the time from work or other commitments.

But what can a family with elderly members do if such schemes are not available in their neighbourhood?

The simple answer is that they can also depend on the goodwill of neighbours, but they need to invest time and effort to know them better besides exchanging rudimentary pleasantries.

My mother, who lives alone, does just that, to the extent that she and some neighbours have become close and exchange hampers for Chinese New Year and even go on holidays together.

I have no doubt that her friends can be relied on to come to her help in an emergency, if my three sisters who live nearby cannot be contacted immediately since they work.

And my sisters and I would gladly do the same for any of my mum's friends, if they were in need.

No comments:

Post a Comment