Nursing homes as test bed for aged care

Artist impression for NTUC's new nursing home.
PHOTO: Nursing homes as test bed for aged care

SINGAPORE - Broader access to better and affordable nursing home care will play a crucial role in answering the burgeoning needs of Singapore's greying population in the years to come.

Such care will form an integral part of the spectrum of medical and nursing services - ranging from hospitalisation to home care - to look after the elderly at various stages of illness, recovery or eventual decline.

With 69 nursing homes providing about 10,000 beds, Singapore has been positioning itself for the future. But it needs to expand its core capacity to deal with anticipated demand.

Thus, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has revised its initial target of 15,600 beds by 2020 to 17,150 - a 10 per cent increase.

The queue of patients waiting for a bed even now attests to the urgency of putting in place the infrastructure to absorb growing needs. Much forward planning is needed to prepare well for a silver tsunami.

It is heartening that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has announced that its first nursing home will open in Jurong West next year.

Also, it is prepared to invest in another five homes in the next three to five years.

Indeed, for the first time, the MOH itself is planning to run its own nursing homes to develop eldercare innovations. It is also looking into releasing land for new facilities and giving a helping hand to operators to help them scale up more quickly.

The larger role of the state in preparing for the silver future is to be welcomed. Together with NTUC's home, the ministry-run facility could help create baseline standards, for example, in ensuring the correct staff-patient ratio to deliver adequate care and guard against abuses arising when staff are overstretched.

The Build-Own-Lease model would draw on the wider resources of society to help patients by keeping costs low. Affordability is a key issue: Citizens from lower-income families must rest assured that adequate nursing home care will remain within their reach even as inflation drives up costs.

With manpower remaining a key concern, the labour-intensive sector must be able to attract more Singaporeans to fill positions, especially as foreign health-care workers will be hard to come by, not only because of curbs on the inflow of foreigners but also given the global demand for such skills.

Many countries are ramping up such services. There are good opportunities in this field for those seeking careers that are socially essential, and meaningful.

Nursing home care can only grow in importance. But younger generations should not see them as dumping grounds for the sick elderly. Most elderly people would still wish for their families to care for them at home as far as possible.

This article was first published on August 4, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.