More affordable medical transport for the needy

PHOTO: More affordable medical transport for the needy

For nine months, Madam Ong Kim Kee, 60, has been forking out hundreds of dollars on cab fares every month, shuttling her diabetic son and husband to hospital for medical treatment.

Her 40-year-old son, Mr Chia Peng Hong, who is unemployed, goes to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital five to six times a week.

He requires dialysis and treatment for his right eye. Two toes on his right foot were amputated due to infection, so he has difficulty moving about and needs physiotherapy.

The elder Mr Chia, 65, also suffers from kidney problems and goes for dialysis three times a week.

Madam Ong had to quit her job as a cleaner four years ago to take care of them.

"It is very tough. I have to spend $30 getting there and back. I really can't continue (doing this) anymore," she said tearfully yesterday.

Madam Ong is one of 15 beneficiaries who will gain from a pilot scheme rolled out for the elderly and disabled.

Called MediWheels, it aims to provide a subsidised medical- transport service to the needy.

It will undergo a six-month trial in the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang ward before it is rolled out to Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency and Sengkang West Single Member Constituency.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched the programme with Mr Sam Tan, Mayor of Central Singapore District, and Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Member of Parliament for the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang ward.

Beneficiaries will pay between $5 and $30 for a two-way trip provided by private medical-transport firms Green Crescent Ambulance and Caring Fleet. Such trips normally cost $50 to $180. There will also be 20 mobility scooters available for rent at $10 a month.

The programme has a seed fund of $120,000 from the Central Singapore Community Development Council and contributions by the public.

Residents who have a household income of less than $2,000 will be eligible, and the amount they pay will be based on their household income. But Mr Yeo said the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang grassroots organisation, which will manage the programme, will be flexible and assess those who do not meet the criterion on "a case-by-case basis".

Helping residents who have chronic illnesses with mobility limitations is important, he said, because many of them "become isolated" as their condition may cause them to stop visiting markets and coffee shops to hang out with friends.

Asked how he feels about residents who oppose the construction of facilities for the elderly, Mr Tan said: "We need to demonstrate to people that this society cares."

He added that the services are "part and parcel" of life in society, and being members of society, people "have the obligation and responsibility to respond positively".

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