Friday, 5 June 2020

More calls to govt helpline for seniors, carers during COVID-19 circuit breaker: Agency for Integrated Care

Delivery of meals and grocery runs for seniors among requests to Agency for Integrated Care
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2020

Social distancing measures have been hard on some people, especially the vulnerable and seniors such as Madam Lai Yuet Meng.

Since March, the 75-year-old has not left her flat in Bukit Panjang, which she shares with her 69-year-old husband.

The couple are both blind and without children to help them. The closest FairPrice supermarket is a 30-minute bus journey away.

Thankfully, they have had volunteers from the Silver Generation Office to help them, from picking up their groceries to accompanying them for hospital appointments.

The volunteers got in touch with her after she called the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) hotline, 1800-650-6060. The Silver Generation Office is the agency's outreach arm.

The AIC, which supports seniors and their caregivers and links callers to community care services, saw a spike in calls during the circuit breaker period, which started on April 7.

It received an average of 300 calls a day in the two months to Monday, when the circuit breaker ended. That was 25 per cent more calls a day than usual.

An AIC spokesman told The Straits Times that besides making inquiries on eldercare-related financial aid schemes, callers have asked for meals to be delivered to seniors.

The agency said it has also received requests to run errands like buying groceries or collecting medication for seniors, who were especially advised to stay at home during the circuit breaker period.

Many had reached the agency through its helpline, which AIC has been promoting through the media and its partners, among others.

Madam Lai learnt of the hotline while listening to a radio show.

She needed help after her husband lost his job as a masseur in April when his employer's business was affected by the outbreak.

Her husband received $500 from the Government's Temporary Relief Fund in April and the Social Service Office is helping him to apply for the COVID-19 Support Grant.

Those who have lost their jobs due to the outbreak, among other categories of people, can get up to $800 a month for three months under the grant.

Madam Lai said she and her husband are also digging into their savings for their daily needs.

The AIC spokesman said seniors were one of the more vulnerable groups during the circuit breaker period. "This is especially so for those who are physically frail or live alone or have little family support. They may need more help in dealing with the COVID-19 situation or with day-to-day living, but do not know who to turn to for help."

But the agency did not just wait for calls. The Silver Generation Office called seniors who live alone or have little family support, to check on them and to offer support.

The AIC said the outreach arm will continue engaging seniors by phone and expanding the pool of those it targets, including elderly caregivers and others, until the Silver Generation Office is able to resume its "face-to-face home engagements".

The mode of engagement will be adjusted based on guidance from the multi-ministry task force tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.

"For seniors without phones or who remain uncontactable, Silver Generation Office will continue to conduct short, physical visits with the necessary precautionary measures to ensure that they are safe and well," said the spokesman.

For now, the Silver Generation Office calls Madam Lai once a week to check in on her.

"It's good to have someone to chat with me. At least I don't feel so lonely," she said.

Besides buying groceries, Silver Generation Office volunteers will be accompanying Madam Lai to the hospital at the end of this month for her physiotherapy session.

When asked about Madam Lai, a Ministry of Social and Family Development spokesman said: "We understand that Madam Lai is retired and receives a pension.

"Madam Lai's husband applied for ComCare assistance in April, but the family declined to share information on their household finances, and hence we were not able to process his application.

"We will continue to work with our community partners to engage and support the family as needed."

Although Madam Lai has found it hard to cope, given her disability, finances and the measures in place to curb the coronavirus outbreak, she appreciates the help she has been receiving.

"I'm thankful that there are people to help me. I don't know all the changes due to COVID-19 and I feel it is better if someone can accompany me to the hospital," she said.

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