Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Give caregivers days off to avoid burnout

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter on the above subject is published in The New Paper today, Wed 29 June 2011 on page 20.

I support the statement by Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob about giving a day off every week(Give them a break, The New Paper on Sunday, June 26.)

It is encouraging that the Government is concerned about the welfare of foreigners who lend support to our households.

But what about the welfare of family members who are looking after their elderly or sick relatives? Don’t they need some form of respite?

The welfare of this group of caregivers have been forgotten and neglected, forcing many to send their relatives to nursing homes.

Caregiving is not an easy task, whether managed by professionals or by family members.

Unlike professional caregivers, dedicated family members who are willing to care for their stricken ones, do not have days off.

Caregivers in this group work 24/7 and 365 days a year, with many suffering burnout.

An increasing number of us will get old and suffer from a variety of chronic illnesses. We must make caregiving a part of our life, not to hide it or avoid it.

It is in our best interests to have a caregiving plan as we never know when we are going to be hit by caregiving needs.

The Government must work closely with caregivers and lend a helping hand.


Here are some suggestions for the Government to consider that will help raise the level of caregiving.

* Provide respite care for caregivers and make it possible for them and their stricken ones to go on a holiday once a year. I am confident that sponsors will come forward to support this idea.

* Set up a hotline for seniors.

* Publish a guidance directory and distribute it among family members who are caring for the elderly.

* Introduce a reward system that recognizes caregivers who have made huge sacrifices in taking care of their sick relatives.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Mistreatment at nursing home : Implement reward system for workers- Raymond A Fernando writes to the press

My letter  on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Friday 17 June 2011, page 20.

It is shocking to read the report of mistreatment of the elderly woman in the Nightingale Nursing Home, “Nightmare at the Nightingale” (The New Paper on Friday, June 10).

To ill treat a defenceless elderly woman who suffered a stroke is inhumane and unacceptable. I am surprised that the abusers have got away with just being disciplined.

Do they not know that a woman's modesty should be protected at all cost, and that to slap a helpless old lady on the mouth can be very painful?

Was this the only time the senior citizen was abused or were there other instances?

Under the elder abuse laws, the perpetrators should be brought to court for physical, and possibly, verbal abuse.

Otherwise occurrences of such abuses will continue and some cases of ill treatment may even go undetected.

While managing persons with chronic illnesses and disabilities is not the easiest task, professional caregivers who are entrusted to care for the sick must practise patience and perseverance that can help to lift the human spirit and lead the afflicted ones to recovery.

In this respect, I propose that the Government implements an attractive reward system that recognises professional health-care workers in nursing homes who go the extra mile in caring for their charges, just as they do in public hospitals.

Caregivers should also be encouraged to visit their sick relatives frequently and to this end, it is necessary to ensure that all nursing homes are easily accessible to members of the public in terms of buses – be it from public transport companies or feeder bus services.

Caregiving, whether it comes from professional health-care workers or family members must be promoted as a noble job.

I therefore revisit an idea which I proposed a few times to the Government - give a caregiver's allowance that can help family members take on this task rather than place them in nursing homes, bearing in mind that looking after a person with disabilities or chronic illnesses requires supervision 24/7.

Unannounced visits at nursing homes and hospitals by officials from the Ministry of Health (MOH), coupled with six monthly feedback assessments from relatives on the service levels at these homes, that can be summarised by the home's administrators to MOH should also be put in place.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Raymond's letter to The New Paper: "Extending primary care scheme the way to go"

My letter on the above subject is published in The New Paper today, Wednesday 8 June 2011, page 18.

Apart from housing, health-care costs is another grave concern for Singaporeans, especially the elderly, many of whom are struggling with chronic illnesses and have limited savings.

I am encouraged that Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said that the Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) could be extended.

At the moment, subsidies for senior citizens start at the age of 65. One way to reward our seniors who have contributed to the economy is to allow the use of the subsidies from 62 instead.

Positive living

Such a move will cause less anxiety to these seniors, leading to more positive living and better health.

Extending the PCPS island-wide also makes sense as many senior citizens have difficulty getting about.

This way, low-income Singaporeans, including the elderly, who want to visit clinics will find it easy to see the general practitioner near their homes.

On a separate matter, could the authorities look into the bus stop at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

I hope the Transport Minister can advise the relevant bus company to re-route its present services to ply the institute's grounds so that visitors will find it more convenient to visit patients. It would be useful for the IMH staff as well.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Government needs to provide respite care for caregivers and day care centres for the mentally ill


Being a caregiver to a mentally ill person is very challenging and energy draining. However, when you are a caregiver who is not a formally trained, this can lead to unbelievable stress in your life, and it can rip apart families, marriages, parental relationships, as well as your own inner self. 

The task of a taking care of a loved one with schizophrenia or bipolar person is especially difficult and painful as these illnesses are unpredictable and requires round-the-clock supervision. It is like walking in a minefield - you never know when the bomb will explode. As the sole caregiver to my wife who has has suffered horrifically from schizophrenia since the age of 17, I know only too well how painful the journey is.

Respite care

Caregivers are at increased risk of depression and other health problems as a result of the stress of being a caregiver. It is therefore crucial for caregivers to take a break periodically. Having respite care can enable the caregiver to keep providing rather than burning out or becoming ill.

Some local governments in first world countries, like U.K. help pay for respite care for caregivers because they fully understand the burnout which the carers have to endure everyday of their lives.

Respite care is not a luxury. It is necessary for the well-being of the person in your care and for you.

In Singapore, the focus is on the patient and often the caregiver is forgotten.

The government should look into the welfare of caregivers who are prepared to walk the less travelled road.

The perfect sanctuary

Some months ago, I shared my experience as a caregiver to my wife to about 100 Catholics at the Catholic Church of St Ignatius in Kings Road. Before the talk, I was invited to rest at the garden near Kingsmead Hall. This is where retreats are held for Catholics who wish to experience a spiritual journey. The ambience was peaceful and serene. It is the perfect sanctuary for anyone who needs to find peace of mind and want to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the stressful urban lifestyle.

The Singapore Government could send a team over to this Church to study how it can build a similar sanctuary for caregivers who desperately need respite. Such a home away from home, with no religious teachings, can also be rented out at affordable prices for those with special needs who are unable to bear with excessive noise from upgrading works that are carried out periodically in HDB estates.

If we want caregiving to become a noble job, we need to build the infrastructure that is vital in making life easier for our marginalised communities.

Daycare centres

Try as hard as I can, I am unable to find a suitable day care centre for my wife during periods when there is excessive noise. I read with interests that the MCYS is planning to beef up the number of childcare teachers in child care centres and also to expand the number of such learning centres across the island. Yet, nobody feels it necessary to provide affordable daycare centres for recovered psychiatric patients who have also contributed much to the economy during the periods when they were gainfully employed.

Nursing homes and daycare centres need not have an environment that looks depressing and gloomy. It can be “tailored” to the retreat centre at the Church of St Ignatius (mentioned above) that will help to lift the dampened spirit and a troubled mind. Surely NTUC who looks into the welfare of workers could explore the construction of such daycare centres in the heartlands as there are many who are struggling with the stresses of life in all parts of Singapore.

There is far too much emphasis on the younger generation and so little support for our seniors that leave us feeling that we are a “forgotten lot”.

The government has assured all Singaporeans that it will listen to feedback, but it is futile to give feedback when these do not translate to concrete action.

Raymond Anthony Fernando

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