Bringing eldercare 'down to the ground'

SINGAPORE - Care for the elderly should be decentralised as access to social services for the elderly is important, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

He said it was all about bringing what is done in hospitals, ministries and community development councils "down to the ground and close to where the vulnerable elderly live".

"For the elderly, proximity is extremely important," he said.

He was speaking at the opening of the newest senior activity centre (SAC) at Taman Jurong, which is managed by NTUC Eldercare.

In conjunction with the opening, the labour movement's U Care Fund also made a donation of $1 million to NTUC Eldercare Trust.

The money will be used to help the needy elderly by subsidising fees for programmes at NTUC Eldercare centres.

The new facility at Corporation Drive will cater to more than 300 elderly people living in the area.

The facility is also a cluster support centre.

It is the first of 16 cluster support centres to open, with the rest set to be ready by 2016.

These specialised centres are part of a larger group of 99 SACs which will be completed by that date.

While regular SACs focus more on social activities such as organising talks and outings, cluster support SACs cater to the elderly who are vulnerable or isolated, and manage their welfare on a case-by-case basis.

Each cluster support SAC will house four or five social workers and will have access to a pool of 10 to 20 volunteers.

In comparison, a regular SAC usually has only two or three workers.

With these additional resources, each cluster support SAC will supplement four or five regular SACs in the vicinity.

Explaining this, Ms Lim Sia Hoe, the general manager of NTUC Eldercare, said that when the elderly have a medical condition, they usually will not leave the house until it is serious, then they may have to move into a nursing home.

These SACs hope to intervene early and allow the elderly to continue to live in the community with their friends.

For now, though, at least one elderly resident is enjoying the social benefits of the newest SAC.

"I have lived here for 42 years, but never met my neighbours, even though they are right next door," said Mr Eric Lee, 65, a retiree.

"Now, I can come to the centre every day to exercise and to read the papers. I have also finally made friends with my neighbours," he said.

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