Challenge to connect the dots in helping seniors

PHOTO: Challenge to connect the dots in helping seniors

SINGAPORE - The Pioneer Generation Package is a good policy that will ease the burden of medical bills, but the challenge is how to "connect the dots" on the ground to ensure that seniors know they can get help and are able to access the benefits, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob.

This means finding the right language to relate to them, understanding their unique circumstances, and walking them through every step of the care system, from filling in forms to seeing the doctor, said Madam Halimah and other panellists at a forum on the package yesterday.

The best people to translate policy into reality are thus those who are active in the community, she added. These include voluntary welfare organisations, grassroots groups and even fellow residents.

"This is where on the ground you need a lot of people who are very passionate and very caring, who are prepared to surface these cases and seek help for them," said the MP for Jurong GRC.

She was speaking at an event organised by self-help group Mendaki, for representatives of Malay-Muslim organisations to understand the package better, as well as discuss its outreach and health-care issues.

Since the $8 billion package was announced in February, the Government has used several platforms, from getai to door-to-door household visits, to let older Singaporeans know of its benefits.

Spreading the word about the pioneer package, which subsidises medical care from the primary to acute stages, can also be done by tapping seniors' social networks, said Madam Halimah.

On its part, the Government can join the dots among the many players offering help.

"The question is how do we engage all these various groups so that we make sure at every contact point when seniors are there, they are able to receive this message," she said.

Another speaker, Ms Peh Kim Choo, director of the Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, emphasised the importance of having a network of care managers - both volunteers and professionals - in the community.

This, along with a hearty dash of the kampung spirit, can help seniors to age in place within the community and an environment familiar to them, said Ms Peh.

Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Council for Third Age and the Eastern Health Alliance, said the old distinction between health care and social services no longer holds.

There is a growing realisation that agencies need to work together closely to plug gaps in the system, he said.

For instance, pharmacists at Changi General Hospital have been told to keep an eye out for patients who ask for medicine dosages less than what they were prescribed. They will refer these patients to medical social workers, who will ensure those facing financial difficulties do not fall through the cracks.

On the divide between perception and reality, cardiologist Abdul Razakjr Omar called for more effective communication to let people know there is always help on hand - such as through Medifund - to meet medical bills.

All four speakers agreed that health care must go beyond institutions like clinics and hospitals. Madam Halimah and Ms Peh called for more to be done in long-term and home care.

Mr Ee noted that charitable groups can also be guilty of adding to unhealthy diets when they fill food packages for the low-income with items like instant noodles.

This article was published on May 18 in The Straits Times.

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