Thursday, October 19, 2017

Opinion: Strong community support can help psychiatric patients to work toward recovery

8 years ago, on 22 January 2009, I proposed through the press (The New Paper) that the government builds more psychiatric homes, and it has been implemented.  Thank you, The New Paper for your wonderful support.

Last Saturday, a sheltered home for psychiatric patients – the Anglican Care Centre (SACS) managed by the Singapore Anglican Community Services was officially opened and Health Minister Gan Kim Young officiated at the event.  

When the Ministry of Health stands alongside the mentally ill, there is a good chance that slowly persons with mental illness will gain acceptance. It is encouraging that the Government is listening to feedback.  I am indeed very grateful to the government for building this psychiatric home.


In less than 2 weeks from today, 1st November my late wife, Doris who was born on ALL SAINTS DAY will be celebrating her 65th birthday. She watches over me often, I can feel her presence in my room at night and even during the day. After her bath, Doris will put smell talcum powder on her face and body, and that’s the smell I get when I feel her around me. She brings renewed hope to me, and if she was alive, Doris will also be so happy that this shelter has been built.


Here’s my take on the newly opened Anglican Care Centre (SACS).


The newly opened Anglican Care Centre (SACS) managed by the Singapore Anglican Community Services is the right setting for psychiatric patients to work towards recovery, and it is a healthy sign that Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, despite his busy schedule, was there to officiate at the opening (Centre for those recovering from mental illness; October, 14, 2017, The Straits Times).


Dr Arthur Chern, group chief executive officer of SACS and St Andrew’s Mission Hospital, was spot on when he mentioned that with good community-based support, psychiatric patients can lead a normal life that includes being given regular employment.


Unlike, a physical illness, the recovery from a mental health condition takes a much longer time and lots of patience and understanding is required to enable them to stay in control of their lives.


The road ahead for psychiatric patients may not always be smooth sailing as there will be bumps along the way. But as long as they keep to their medical appointments that includes counselling, take the prescribed medications, exercise regularly and receive staunch support and encouragement from enlightened employers and colleagues, along with loving and caring caregivers and the community, there is an excellent chance of patients heading towards recovery. This will be an opportune time for them to achieve their goals – thereby securing full independence that will eventually enable them to gain acceptance in society.


In working towards building a dynamic inclusive society, let us not define psychiatric patients by their condition nor see it as a character flaw, but rather to understand that they are all human beings, who just like you and me, need love, understanding and kindness.


Raymond Anthony Fernando




I am also inspired by people who have overcome obstacles in life, and one such person is famous American basketball player Michael Jordan, who once said: “Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

For the past 3 and a half years, I make it a must to pray to my wife at the columbarium in my church where Doris’ ashes are laid. I go as early as 6am to pray to her even though the lights are only turned on at 8am.  I pray in the dark, but the light of the eyes in Jesus and my wife shines on me, and give me hope. It is very dark but I bring along my led light lamp so that I will not be groping in the dark and fall down.

Moreover, the stretch of road leading to the church is tricky as the MRT is being built there so many areas have been blocked off.  Going that early helps me avoid the peak hour crowd in buses and I find solitude at this hour when I can talk to my wife and Jesus – two people who always protect and care for me.

Whatever I have done; and continue to do for the marginalized in Singapore though my advocacy efforts, I do it with courage and conviction.  I fear no one. And those who believe in what I do will always give me encouragement. I will walk tall – as I walk the talk.  

Have a nice day, folks.



Raymond Anthony Fernando  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Encouraging when ideas get translated into action!

8 years ago, on 22 January 2009, I proposed through the press (The New Paper) that the government builds more psychiatric homes, and it has been implemented. Last Saturday, a sheltered home for psychiatric patients – the Anglican Care Centre (SACS) managed by the Singapore Anglican Community Services was officially opened and Health Minister Gan Kim Young officiated at the event. Read my press letter here:…/letter-to-pressnew-paper-22nd…
Advocacy pays, ya?
Raymond Anthony Fernando

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Public suggestion to the Health & Manpower Ministers: Provide financial options to Singaporeans who can’t pay big bills in private hospitals and review lengthy work hours for senior citizens

Having to pay for huge medical bills in view of rising medical costs has always been a deep concern of all Singaporeans, and it really saddens me to have read of the plight of Mr Thomas Lukose who was saddled with a huge medical bill (Patient could not get place in SGH, hit with $78k bill; Oct 11, 2017, The Straits Times).

But, it was commendable on the part of the operating cardiac surgeon, Dry Sriram Shanker to waive the charges for his services, after which Gleneagles Hospital also waive the medical bill of for Mr Lukose.

If we can build on that compassion and offer some options to Singaporeans who may face a similar situation in future, I am pretty sure the lower income groups will breathe a big sigh of relief.  Moreover, offering options is always useful to have contingency plans in place in anticipation of unexpected situations or developments that may arise from time to time.

Securing a slot in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is an issue that needs to be tackled quickly given that many Singaporeans are stressed out in having to balance work and family life.  So too securing a bed in a government hospital. Given these challenges, there needs to be some flexibility and options for any Singaporean who have problems paying huge bills due to the unavailability of ICU slots or beds in public hospitals. 

Until such time when the slots in ICU or beds are fully resolved by the Ministry of Health (MOH), there needs to be systems in place for Singaporeans to have peace of mind. 

Offer options

To begin with MOH should collaborate with private hospitals to allow Singaporeans who have life-threatening illnesses and cannot secure a bed in public hospitals to pay their bills at the subsidised rates in the private hospitals – as was rightly suggested my SPH’s Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik. 

Then there needs to be some other options open to Singaporeans who are saddled with big bills through no fault of theirs.  For example, patients could be allowed to pay big bills through an instalment plan – interest free as they would need follow-up treatment which includes medication.

Another option is for ComCare to help pay for part of the bill as this government fund was set up primary to help elderly Singaporeans facing financial difficulties. MOH needs to collaborate with MSF on this matter.

Although medifund is given to patients in subsidised wards, some flexibility can be exercised given the circumstances that the patient/s may be caught in – as was the case with Mr Lukose.   Thus, medifund assistance can be yet another option offered to such patients.

Another viable option is for the Tote Board and the President’s Star Charity to allocate some funds for Singaporeans who are in this predicament.

Once approved by MOH, the social workers at the private admitting hospital can then coordinate any of these schemes to make it a smooth sail for the patient/s so that his/her loved ones will have peace of mind. 

While crowdfunding can help to raise some funds, relatives should not be burdened to take this route as it will only add to their stress and anxiety at a time when they will be deeply worried over their gravely ill loved one.   

The recovery from life-threatening illnesses such as heart surgery must not leave the patient and his/her family with anxiety and worry, as it can affect the healing process.

Lengthy work hours will take a toll on the physical and mental health of workers

Separately, the Ministry of Manpower and unions needs to review the long working hours which security guards have to clock in – almost all of our security personnel work on a 12-hour shift on any given day.  Those in the industry could be given the flexibility to opt for shorter working hours (8 hours) or if they are fit to work the 12-hour shift.  With job uncertainty and workers being laid off as companies downsize and restructure, some of our retrenched workers who have bills and mortgages to pay may have to work in the security line or drive cabs as jobs are hard to come by.  

Lengthy works hours – especially for senior citizens can have damaging effects on their physical as well as their mental state.

On 24th August 2015, a study published in the British medical journal – The Lancet had an alarming warning for people who work more than 55 hours a week: They appear to have a 33 percent higher risk of stroke than those toiling a saner 35 to 40 hours each week, and a 13 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease, too.

In addition, a study in 2014 found that working more than 55 hours a week at low-income jobs is associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Then it was also found that the odds for developing depression were more than double for those who work very long hours.

Education and medical care are two important areas for the government to invest in. While the government is wise to invest heavily in education as students can be groomed to become tomorrow’s leaders, the policy makers have to also appreciate older Singaporeans – many of whom have done national service to protect our country and who have dedicated their whole lives to our country. 

Submitted for the government’s consideration, please.  
Thank you.



Raymond Anthony Fernando



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Opinion: Be mindful of sensationalising and glorifying violence

I totally agree with Dr Ng Eng Heng that counter-terrorism efforts could go on for a long time “7 times more Singaporeans radicalised in the past year: Defence Minister (Oct 9).

The defence ministry has done the right thing by getting our soldiers to participate in counter-terrorism missions for a decade in counties like Afghanistan against the Al Qaeda.  Although more training and deployment for our soldiers will continue so that Singaporeans can be protected should terror attacks occur, it is just as important that the media and movies producers be mindful of sensationalising and glorifying violence as it can influence extremists from following what they see.   

Let’s understand that violence begets violence.  Given the rise in terrorism world-wide, everyone has an important role to play in stamping out senseless violence.  

Because they have so much hatred and anger in them, terrorists’ groups have only one purpose – to maim and kill innocent people. They have absolutely no love for human beings. 

Some time ago, the movie Air Force One was shown in America and many other countries, including Singapore.  In this action-packed thriller, a group of hijackers seized the plane carrying the President of the United States and his family. 

By some strange coincidence, several years later in September 2001, American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City killing 2,996 people and injuring 6,000 others, with damages estimated at $10 billion in infrastructure and property. The Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks.

Many of the Hollywood blockbusters which has excessive violence and broadcast through wide TV networks around the world could in some way be giving ‘ideas’ to terrorists or potential ones. These movies tend to ‘glorify’ violence. Given that terrorism is causing havoc in many cities, broadcasting stations may want to review what they telecast as the outreach is big.

World-wide media coverage of terrorists’ cruelty such beheading people or bombing crowded places will give terrorist groups the attention they crave for.  Bear in mind that a discontented society paves the way for terrorists to recruit followers and carry out terror attacks.


The media and platforms on the internet all over the world should therefore not play into the hands of terrorists by sensationalising coverage on violence and terrorism because it will not only instill fear and anxiety in people, but divide everyone.


Once fear grips people, they panic and become vulnerable to the evil doings of terrorists.  Thus, an effective way for nations to defeat terrorists is to build unshakable resilience and stay united – period.   


But while it is important for everyone to stay vigilant against terrorism, we cannot also be looking over our shoulders all the time, and be held ransom to terrorists.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Opinion: Implement a Block Watch programme to stamp out vice in the heartlands

Foreign women here on social visit passes are becoming bolder and in wanting to make a fast buck through vice are upsetting residents in Jurong West Street 61 and it’s understandable that many of the residents there feel unsafe (“Heartland brothels make residents see red”, The New Paper, October 4, 2017)

Our homes are our sanctuary and it represents who we are and the principles and values we live by. Landlords, for their part, must keep tabs on the people they rent their premises to, especially if they are unknown to them.

Neigbours play an important role in keeping the estate safe and secure from crimes. They can keep a look-out for strangers entering homes.  Neighbourhood safety is a shared responsibility in which both citizens and police have important roles to play.

Unlike condominiums where there is security personnel round-the-clock to check on visitors, HDB flats do not have such a security system, so it makes it so much easier for vice to take place in rented flats where the landlord may not be aware of such illegal activities. 

Therefore, I suggest that a Block Watch programme be introduced in Jurong West estate and other housing estates where appointed neighbours can work with the police to report suspicious characters – be it for suspected vices and other criminal activities – to reduce or eliminate any residential crime.


Opinion: Volunteers can play an important role in the rehabilitation of patients in the long staying wards of the Institute of Mental Health: An open Public Suggestion to the Singapore Government

I applaud the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for their untiring efforts in helping long-stay psychiatric patients reintegrate back into society with a new rehabilitation programme (“A new dream for IMH long-stayers”; The Sunday Times –  Sunday 1 October 2017)

Well trained volunteers who exercise patience, empathy and compassion will be an excellent position to offer friendship to patients with mental illness who will feel loved and care for. Such social stimulation with reminiscence therapy conversations, combined with singing, games and storytelling by volunteers on a regular basis that can bring some enjoyment to those in the long-staying wards is the first step to getting the patients there to understand that that they are not alone in this world. 

Once the patients feel loved, the confidence they gain is the second step that will motivate them to learn a skill, secure a job and get back into society. 

The third step is to organise outings for the recovering patients as recreation is important for those who have been cooped up for years.

During my visits to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), I have met some of our loving and caring volunteers – locals as well as foreigners, and it is so heartwarming to see them give their time and energy to bring a smile on the faces on the mentally ill. Those who have much love in their hearts and know how to feel for another human being would want to pass it on – and sometimes it breaks their hearts to see patients in their predicament.

During my conversation with a young Filipino volunteer on one Sunday, she broke down and cried when speaking of the plight of psychiatric patients.  It is no big deal for her and her whole group of domestic helpers to sacrifice their only day off in the week to bring happiness to the mentally ill. 

Right now, community visits to IMH is restricted to certain wards, but maybe it is time to cast the net wider by extending these community visits to the long-staying wards as well so that visitors will have a clearer understanding of mental illness and witness firsthand how patients there cope – and to see what the job entails for our dedicated healthcare workers.

With this suggested programme in place, IMH might just be able to secure more volunteers as they might be deeply touched by the plight of patients in the long-staying wards, some of whom have been abandoned by their relatives. Under the training of IMH healthcare workers, the volunteers together with the nurses can gradually bring these patients for outings.   As a pilot project a small number of patients – maybe around 4-5 could be taken to see the outside world.

It is by no means easy to secure volunteers, so an effective way is for those volunteering to have their contributions factored in their staff appraisals (for workers) and in the case of students, in their reports cards. For volunteers who give their time and energy to bring sunshine into the lives of the mentally ill, it also a learning journey for them as they can better understand what psychiatric patients go through trying to cope with the various brain disorders.  To some extent, it’s in a certain way – public education, and when more people are educated on mental health issues, we can slowly, but surely remove the stigma that plagues the mentally ill.