OK, folks, this isn’t an apologia for what happened at the nursing home in Braddell Road.
Rather, I want to pose a question to all those high-minded souls prescribing 1,001 things that must be done to keep our nursing homes safe, their staff in Florence Nightingale mode 24/7 and those elderly folks — parents or other close relatives whom we have no choice but to outsource to others for care — under constant TLC.
How many of you have spent an hour as a visitor to a nursing home — usually an euphemism for a place for people needing care in most things that well-people do for themselves without a second thought? Such as brushing your teeth, bathing, going to the toilet, even eating and drinking, getting up and sitting down, putting on and taking off clothes, shoes etc etc
How many of you have spent 2 hours at a stretch? 3 hours? A regular visitor? A daily visitor?
I think I have spent more time in nursing or old folks homes than the average adult Singaporean without a parent or other kin in one or isn’t a kindly volunteer or medical or nursing home professional.
I’ve done so not out of choice but because of “duty” thrusted upon me.
It was years ago, when I was working in a company where the boss made it an annual ritual to visit many such homes: not the commercial kind but those run by charities and the state.
Our visits were well notified in advance. My boss was a VVIP and would bring an entourage of helpers including — besides his own staff — friends of his who were VIP in their own right. Media were sometimes in tow.
It would therefore be suicidal for those running the charity and state homes to show anything but their “best” side.
All the homes we visited were tidy, clean and occasionally even managed to rise above the general shabbiness synonymous with institutionalised living: at least those areas we were given access to and those inmates well enough to eat the dinner provided and receive their individual hongbao.
So while those homes weren’t places we, the visitors, aimed to trundle to in our twilight years, they were places which all of us felt OK to send those without kith or kin once they are passed their use-by date.
Then I had a rude awakening. It was on my last visit to one such home for the destitute, as I was leaving the employ of the VVIP. That home thankfully no longer exists. It was somewhere out in Woodlands when Woodlands was truly out in the boondocks and MRT was but a twinkle in our planners’ eye.
As I’m not a natural do-gooder, I had found those annual charity excursions something to endure than enjoy.
That being my last visit I felt at liberty to skip the group hongbao distribution and checking on the catered food paid for by the VVIP. I wandered off the beaten path to somewhere right at the back of the home.
That’s when I saw a sight which stunned me. It might have been a scene straight from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Those were days pre-dating the Internet, digicams, fone cams and web cams.
So, I’ve nothing to support me other than my memory.
There were two cadaver-like figures, not lying prone and yet not sitting up on what I would call wooden pallets on some metal frames. They were naked as the day they were born. Two orderlies were hosing them down. I could see from riverlets of dirty water spreading on the ground that the two hapless elderlies must have dirtied themselves.
I beat a hasty retreat as I didn’t want to linger over so disturbing a scene.
I wish i could record that I told the home’s benefactor what I saw. Or shared with the others in his entourage.
I did neither but kept wishing that I hadn’t wandered off. Then I won’t have put myself in the terrible quandary of having to decide whether to tell or not.
I kept quiet when I rejoined the entourage as those were the days when junior staff didn’t normally pipe up unless specifically invited to.
What I did do on returning to the bosom of my family was to tell my folks and felt comforted that the general opinion was that the destitute were better off in a state home than dirty, starving and dying on a street corner, open to the elements.
Fast forward three decades.
The Braddell Road nursing home incident surfaced. The son who did the secret video-taping has since back-tracked somewhat, following the overwhelming publicity. He appears now to say the slap was an affectionate pat; his motivation he claims is to encourage his elder brother to take his mother out of the home and let her stay with him, the younger brother.
Convoluted story. Whatever.
But if all the hand wringers’ prescriptions in reaction to the incriminating video — as reflected in the Straits Times’ Forum — were to be followed, then those with loved ones in nursing homes need, nay must, be prepared to spend more than the average of $1,050 that’s charged by the Braddell Road home.
Would Singaporeans be willing to pay more for better care, better facilities? Would they pay for a 1-to-2 care ratio or even a 2-to-1 ratio? If not, would the state supplement, besides putting in all the etxra checks that newly-minted Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has promised?
Civil servant Oh Ping Huat, 25, told the Straits Times that the work attitude of the staff at the affected home — his father stayed there for about four months while his home is being renovated — was no different from that of those at other homes.
“My father complained that when he asked them to help, like bring a cup of water, they would take their own sweet time,” he said.
“But I have experience with other nursing homes; it’s also this kind of standard. Certain nurses are willing to do more; I can’t expect all nurses to be hardworking.”
Realistic and pragmatic.
In addition, elderly healthcare practitioners say that nursing staff need to be properly trained to deal with elderly patients, especially those with mental health issues.
Ng Wai Chong, 42, assistant director at the Tsao Foundation’s Hua Mei Mobile Clinic, said, “Perhaps we need to take another look at our strategy in the long run for community care so that families don’t have to send as many people to nursing homes.”
Bingo! That’s the nub!
I know a senior medical specialist whose clinic at Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre used to be always packed with patients, local and foreign. Mention his name and everyone in the medical profession would know him.
Yet the latest I hear about him from my good friend — his niece — is since his retirement his mental state has deteriorated to a level where he needs two shifts of nursing care, at home. His moods are erratic and he is prone to violence. As he is still mobile, picture the havoc he can wreak when the spirit takes him! Consequently, family members, especially his wife, live under tremendous stress.
His isn’t the only case I know about.
Sitting down with friends and family members of my age group, we are increasingly alarmed by stories when we hear about our seniors or even contemporaries — at school and work — who though once holding prestigious positions in their careers and society have now, in old age, descended into a living hell that emcompasses their families as well.
And these are the lucky ones whose families have the capacity, mental and financial, to keep them at home. Think of the tens of thousands not so fortunate 😥
Unless Singapore takes a more holistic approach to planning for the fast approaching silver tsunami, then what happened at the Braddell home may be par for the course not too far down the road 😥