FOR the first time, the Health Ministry (MOH) is planning to run its own nursing homes to help Singapore cope with the demands of a greying population.
It is also looking into releasing land for new facilities and helping operators scale up more quickly, after revising its initial target of 15,600 beds by 2020 to 17,150 - a 10 per cent increase.
"With more rapid population ageing in the next couple of decades, we need even more nursing home capacity to meet the anticipated increase in demand for nursing care," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday, as he revealed several initiatives to ramp up the number of beds from around 10,000 now.
MOH is considering running three to four of its own nursing homes to help the ministry better understand the issues faced by operators, and come up with solutions and innovations in eldercare which can be adopted by others.
"Our intention is not to become a major player in the market," said Mr Gan, pointing out that MOH intends to directly operate only about 1,000 beds by 2020, which will account for 6 per cent of the total.
To help operators expand, MOH will call for tenders in which more than one nursing home will be awarded to one operator at a time.
These homes will also be located close to each other so that operators can enjoy economies of scale and better manage resources. A therapist, for instance, could work at two nearby homes, cutting back on manpower.
The first of such tenders will be launched this month, and is open to voluntary welfare organisations and private operators. Those who wish to apply will "have to be prepared to provide more holistic care", said Mr Gan, explaining that they should offer home-care services as well. This will help patients receive care under their own roof after a stay at a nursing home.
The ministry will pay for the building of these new facilities, and lease them out to operators in order to keep costs low for patients. MOH had announced two years ago that 10 nursing homes with 3,000 beds will be built under this Build-Own-Lease model by 2016.
Yesterday, Mr Gan said another nine homes, which will provide 2,000 beds, will be built under this scheme between 2017 and 2020. The Government also plans to release suitable land sites and state properties for the private sector to own and run their nursing homes with their own care models, he added. This will add about 450 more beds by 2020. About 1,000 more beds will also be provided through the expansion of existing nursing homes.
Mr Gan revealed his ministry's plans at the opening of the Society for the Aged Sick's new tower block in Hougang, which added 160 beds to the previous capacity of 244 beds.
Nursing home operators welcomed MOH's plan to run its own homes.
All Saints Home chief executive Eugene Yeo said: "It's encouraging that the policymaker wants to experience first-hand the challenges on the ground."
But some were concerned about manpower issues, given the crunch affecting the health-care sector. Last week, NTUC also revealed plans to open its first nursing home next year under the Build-Own-Lease model.
Ms Loh Shu Ching, chief executive of Ren Ci Hospital, hoped for a "level playing field" in hiring staff. "The recruitment machinery behind MOH-run homes will definitely be bigger. These homes may be perceived to be more attractive employers, with strong government funding behind them."
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