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9 in 10 residents oppose eldercare centre

Residents in Woodlands block up in arms over proposed eldercare centre. -TNP
Benson Ang

Sun, Feb 05, 2012
The New Paper

Residents in a block in Woodlands are up in arms over the proposed construction of an eldercare day centre in the neighbourhood.

Out of the 60 five-room units in Block 861 at Woodlands Street 83, 53 opposed the move and have sent a petition to their Member of Parliament.

They fear the centre will cause their property prices to drop, and take up space in the void deck which is used for weddings and wakes, among other reasons.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is planning for the centre to be set up at the void decks of Blocks 860 and 861 at Woodlands Street 83.

The first of its kind in Woodlands, the 570 sq m centre is to be run by the Sree Narayana Mission.

But nearly nine in 10 residents in Block 861 are against the idea.

Ms Ellen Lee, MP for Sembawang GRC.

They submitted a petition to Ms Ellen Lee, MP for Sembawang GRC, last month.

TNP understands that the opposition against the centre is not as strong in Block 860.

Many of the Block 861 residents attended a meeting with her and Mr Michael Foo, chief executive of the Sree Narayana Mission, on Tuesday at the Woodlands Community Club.

During the two-hour meeting, the residents gave eight reasons for not wanting the centre in their void deck.

Madam Ainun Mohd Lahab, in her 40s, told TNP yesterday that very few of the residents have elderly parents living with them.

Said the preschool supervisor: "Most of the people living here are in their 30s. I applaud the mission for its work, but it should find a better space.

"There are larger vacant lots, with more greenery, elsewhere in the neighbourhood. Those would be more conducive for an eldercare centre."

Sales manager Jenny Chan, 45, said: "I'm concerned there will be more accidents happening here because of the traffic bringing elderly people in and out of the centre.

"There will also be very little space for weddings and wakes in the void decks if the centre were built here."

Said storeman Chua Yong Ngee, 50: "It could affect the price of our flats. If you were looking to buy a flat, would you choose one with an eldercare centre below or one without?"

Retiree Cheong Peng Kiat, 55, said: "I'm most upset that we were not consulted before the authorities decided where to build the centre."

(From left) Sales manager Jenny Chan, storeman Chua Yong Ngee, Retiree Cheong Peng Kiat.


He added that the residents were notified of the plans only on Dec 22 last year when a notice signed by Mr Foo was placed at their doors.

According to the notice, a resident in one of the two blocks had requested that a centre be set up.

Said the notice: "The new centre... will be able to look after your elderly while you are at work.

"We will also be providing free counselling and advice on how to take good care of our elderly."

Renovation works for the centre are to start in April, and the process is expected to take about three months.

The residents' concerns have left Ms Lee in a bind.

She told TNP: "My conflict is how to balance the needs of these elderly who need this service - not only the elderly but also their caregivers - with those of residents who feel that their space has been violated.

"The residents have brought up their views, and it is fair to listen to them.

"But honestly, my heart is with the elderly and their caregivers.

She added: "The centre will provide a convenient place for elderly family members during the day, while their caregivers go to work. There will be activities - like physiotherapy and rehabilitation - for the old folk.

"Everybody ages, and the centre is for the good of the community."

Those aged 50 and above already make up 23 per cent of her constituency, she said.

Ms Lee has informed MOH of the petition and her residents' concerns.

TNP understands that no decision has been made on this as it is still in the consultative process.

The building of eldercare day centres in housing estates is part of MOH's plans to deal with the greying population.

An MOH spokesman told TNP that the centre is meant to provide aged care services to the community in Woodlands.

She said such centres are a key part of MOH's ageing-in-place strategies, as they allow the elderly to age in a familiar environment at home and not be institutionalised.

The centres in housing estates, in particular, are readily accessible, in that working caregivers can conveniently drop off their elderly at the centre during the day.

The centres can also provide other aged care services, like home care and health screening, to the rest of the community.

MOH plans to increase the number of seniors who can benefit from these centres. There are 54 such centres now, which can benefit 2,800 seniors.

MOH plans to increase this figure to 8,000 by 2020.

The spokesman said: "Singaporeans are rapidly ageing over the next two decades, and there is a need to build up aged-care services significantly to cope with the increased need and demand.

"As our population grows older, we need such aged care facilities to be developed islandwide and well-integrated into our heartlands."

The spokesman added that when planning the number and distribution of these centres, MOH considered the demographics of residents, the adequacy of existing provision of eldercare services in the surrounding areas, and the availability of space in each area.

She said: "Residents will be engaged continuously for their views to address their concerns more effectively.

"We will continue to work closely with all stakeholders and residents in a collective effort to bring about holistic, accessible and quality care for our elderly population."

8 reasons residents oppose the centre

- Increase in noise and pollution levels from the traffic going to and from the centre

- Insufficient space for weddings and wakes to be held in the void deck

- Too much clutter in the estate - it already has a Residents' Committee centre, childcare centre and kindergarten

- More accidents in the estate due to an increase in traffic

- Less parking space in the carparks

- More deaths in the estate. This will create emotional stress and is rather inauspicious to the residents

- The value of estate will decrease due to the limited space, increase in noise and pollution levels

- Blocks 860 and 861 do not have a significant proportion of the elderly

Previous cases

June 2010: Some residents in a block of flats in Chua Chu Kang petitioned against the building of a new childcare centre in the void deck.

They felt the centre would destroy the ambience, obstruct air and light flow, reduce rain shelter and deprive them of their right to enjoy the void deck.

Feb 2010: Tampines and Pasir Ris residents were upset about new rental flats that were being built in their neighbourhood.

They felt these flats would devalue other flats in the estate, lower the quality of living there and block their breeze.

Sept 2008: Private residents in Serangoon Gardens threw a fit when the Government wanted to convert a former school site into a temporary dormitory for foreign workers.

The residents raised several concerns, including traffic congestion, security and safety. The dormitory opened in Dec 2009.

Property players disagree on issue

Property experts TNP spoke to were divided as to whether having an eldercare centre would affect property prices at the block.

Mr Eric Cheng, chief executive of ECG Property, said: "From our experience, having a centre - like an eldercare centre or dialysis centre - can be an issue when buyers use this as an excuse to negotiate for lower prices.

"The COVs (cash over valuation) for such transactions can be around $25,000 compared to about $32,000 if there were no centres at the block."

Differing views

But PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail disagreed. He felt prices would be affected only if the centre was not enclosed and not well-managed.

He said: "This will happen only if the elderly spend their nights in the void deck, sing karaoke throughout the night or play mahjong in the centre.

"But I'm sure this will not be the case since MOH (Ministry of Health) is involved.

"If handled well, an eldercare centre can, in fact, be a plus. It can be an amenity to the seller."

A welfare organisation that provides services to the elderly told TNP that residents could have differing views on these centres.

These opinions usually depended on whether the resident had a need for these centres.

Said Lions Befrienders executive director Goh Boo Han: "Basically, people appreciate these centres only when they need it."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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