Another home fires staff for abuse

SINGAPORE - Another nursing home has revealed it had to remove staffers who were involved in alleged mistreatment of their patients.

Madam Irene Ong owns Irene Nursing Home and Serene Nursing Home.

She has been in the nursing home business since the 1980s and now has a total of 116 patients in the two homes.

She said she had to sack three staff members - all foreigners - in the last two years after other colleagues discovered they had been hitting the patients in separate cases.

It costs $1,300 a month to stay at Irene Nursing Home and $1,100 at Serene Nursing Home.

Madam Ong said she reported one of the incidents to the authorities but then decided to take action on her own.

She said: "We really pity the patients. It is just not right to physically abuse them."

Other employees had alerted her to the incident and she confirmed it when she checked the CCTV footage.

Madam Ong, who is in her 50s, said she installed a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera system to monitor staff members and patients.

It's also a precaution to mitigate against potential abuse in the nursing homes and to protect both the patients and staffers.

That's because patients too have been known to attack nurses, she said.

The recent video of an elderly woman who was allegedly mistreated by staff members at the Nightingale Nursing Home has prompted a closer look at the care elderly patients receive in nursing homes.

Three homes The New Paper spoke to said that dealing with some elderly patients can be a challenge, especially those with mental health problems such as dementia.

This is why they put up measures to safeguard both their staff members and their patients.

There are 63 nursing homes in Singapore - 32 of them privately run and the rest operated by voluntary welfare organisations, TNP reported in January.

Madam Ong hires staff from Myanmar and the Philippines because she cannot find them locally.

She said: "There are sometimes communication problems as many of the patients can speak only dialect, which the staff members don't understand."

This sometimes leads to misunderstanding and frustration on both sides. She said that tending to elderly patients, especially those with dementia, is not easy.

She recalled a particularly abusive patient - she spat at staff members and pinched them when they tried to bathe her.

Said Madam Ong: "Their relatives often put them in homes because they cannot handle them at home."

There have been times when relatives have complained about the staff ill-treating their loved ones. "But we're able to show them the camera footage as proof (that it didn't happen)."

Madam Ong said the camera system, which cost $30,000.

Nurse manager Jacqueline Voon of privately run Paean Nursing Home, which has 20 patients, said she and her colleagues were shocked after viewing the Nightingale video.

The home immediately called a staff meeting and warned employees against abusing their patients.

Ms Voon, 40, said it can be hard dealing with patients with mental health issues.

"The difficulty is that they make a lot of noise and disturb (the fellow patients). We have to be patient when dealing with these patients. If it gets out of hand, then we will refer to the doctor to increase the dosage of their medication," she said.

Spat at

Employees are sometimes spat at. "But we just take it as part of the job, wash our face and carry on," she said.

She said the home once made a police report after a fight broke out between two patients. Both were subsequently expelled from the home.

Paean also takes preventative measures such as ensuring the patients do not have access to sharp objects.

Windsor Convalescent Home manager Maggie Ng, 55, said she also has to deal with abusive patients. She said: "Usually when they first come in, it is very difficult for them to adapt to a new environment.

"Some patients will punch and use the walking stick to beat the staff. It is very difficult sometimes. My staff will inform me immediately (when this happens)."

When that happens, the staffers try to calm down the patients and, in serious circumstances, call family members to send the patient for a medical review.

Ms Ng said her home has seen many such cases but employees have no protection against such abuse as the patients often attack suddenly.

Hua Mei Mobile Clinic of the Tsao Foundation, which provides home-based health care for the elderly, said nursing staff need to be properly trained to deal with elderly patients, especially those with mental health issues.

Assistant director Ng Wai Chong, 42, said: "Perhaps we need to take another look at our strategy in the long run for community care so that families don't have to send as many people to nursing homes."

Additional reporting by Denis Edward

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