He's in better shape, thanks to home nurse

Familiar environment: Mr Goh, 95, used to be in and out of hospital every month, but has not had to be hospitalised since Ms Rani started caring for him at his home. She is one of a growing number of qualified foreign nurses here caring for patients outside of hospitals and nursing homes.

Swaroopa Rani holds a diploma in nursing and has worked for over 10 years in hospitals in India, even starting up one in a rural village in Pondicherry.

But since last year, the 34-year-old mother of two has been working in a Singapore household on a work permit - the same pass as a maid.

"A nurse is a nurse anywhere," she said. "Whether in hospital or in home care, I hope to do my profession justice."

Instead of many patients a day, she sees just one - Goh Chong Huat, 95, a cardiac patient who had gallstones and had to live with a catheter to drain urine.

He used to be in and out of hospital every month, but has not had to be hospitalised since Ms Rani started caring for him at his home near Bedok. She changed his diet and he is no longer dependent on a catheter.

"No one likes to stay in a hospital for a long time. At home, he is more comfortable and he can do what he likes," she told The Straits Times.

Ms Rani, who works with Active Global Specialised Caregivers, is one of a growing number of qualified foreign nurses here caring for patients outside of hospitals and nursing homes.

At least two companies began specialising in this service in the past two years, and existing ones say demand is growing.

Susan Ng, director of Sue Private Nurses Agency, which has been offering the service since 1990, said she now gets more than 10 new inquiries a month.

Dana Elliott Srither, chief executive of Optinuum Health Services, said that since bringing in foreign nurses early last year, he has received more inquiries than the company can meet.

The benefits are clear: Home care allows patients to stay in a familiar environment.

"A person can avoid going to a nursing home and age in his own place," said Yorelle Kalika, CEO of Active Global, which has brought in over 150 nurses.

Affordability is another reason for the growing demand. Foreign home nurses are paid between $600 and $1,000 a month, depending on their qualifications.

This is higher than the $500 average salary of a maid, but far less than the salary of a local nurse, who may earn $6,000 a month doing 12-hour shifts in a patient's home, said Mrs Ng.

It can also be lower than nursing home fees, which range from $1,200 to $3,500 a month before government subsidies for households below an income cap.

Home nurses here come from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

There are no official figures on the number of foreign nurses working here on foreign domestic worker work permits, but industry estimates suggest there are at least 250. Their job scope may include taking patients through exercises, dressing their wounds, monitoring vital signs, and bathing and feeding them.

"We say no if the family asks if she can also take care of the kids. That would distract the caregiver and shortchange the patient," said Ms Kalika.

For retired architect Chuah Yet Lian, 88, employing a home nurse through Sue Private Nurses has allowed him to play a role in caring for his wife, a stroke patient, for the past 15 years.

"I don't want her to go to a nursing home because she can't speak and tell you what she wants," he said.

"I think it's safer to get someone to look after her at home. I can look after her sometimes."

There are also benefits for the nurses. Ms Rani said she likes the security of working in a home and not having to spend on food or lodging. "I want to save some money for my family and for a nursing degree," she said.

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