by Wan Ting Koh
AMID the controversy over the future of Singapore’s nursing homes – whether seniors are better off in private rooms or ward-type facilites – for at least one group of seniors, what they really want is the best of both worlds.
They like the privacy and autonomy that their own bedroom offers. But at the same time, they also like being able to mingle with other residents, saying that sometimes being by themselves can get a bit lonely.
We spoke to Saint Bernadette Lifestyle Village, one of Singapore’s few assisted living facilities that offers private rooms and is run by a Volunteer Welfare Organisation. Last month marked the facility’s first anniversary since it opened in December 2015. Currently, it houses eight seniors who range from 75 to over 90 years old.
Most of the eight residents said that while privacy is a priority, they also appreciate the companionship of fellow residents and the presence of nurses who attend to them when needed.
Madam Joy Lo is one such resident. The 94-year-old has been staying at the facility for some six to eight months and has no plans to move. She first moved to St Bernadette as she felt lonely at home with only a domestic helper as company. Her son had to work, while her daughter was in the UK.
“At home we are all alone with the maid. The maid have to do housework, how can she attend to you all the time? Here we can meet others and play mahjong,” said Madam Lo.
When asked if she would want to stay in a dormitory-style nursing home, she said no, citing privacy as her main concern. However, Madam Lo is still quite mobile and doesn’t require any assistance to move around. She even made it her daily morning routine to sweep the garden after getting up at 6am.
Others her age, however, might need more supervision, she acknowledged. Like those who are ill and not mobile.
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St Bernadette, which began accepting residents in end 2015, is an assisted living facility located a five-minute walk from Newton MRT. Unlike most nursing homes in Singapore, St Bernadette offers its residents a more home-like setting by providing residents with private bedrooms and ensuite toilets, while having a nurse available 24/7 to care for the residents. Residents sign a six-month lease, which they can extend and pay $3,500 per month.
The home is located entirely on the ground floor and consists of a common room, which is attached to eight private bedrooms. Each bedroom has a TV, a bed, a bedside table, a drawer for personal effects, a phone, a chair and an attached bathroom.
Madam Lo, whose room faces the front of the home, has decorated the space with her personal belongings. Her medicinal cabinet is filled with small bottles from her makeup collection, including her favourite skincare brands: Estee Lauder and Elizabeth Arden.
Said Madam Lo:
“You’re free to do what you want, but you have food on time and people take care of you.”
St Bernadette stands in stark comparison to the more commonly seen model of nursing homes in Singapore – the dormitory-style nursing home. These are homes which can house up to 30 residents in a single ward and focus on giving residents round-the-clock medical care.
A report released last year, titled Safe but Soulless, suggested that many of such nursing homes in Singapore, though clean and safe, are regimented to the point that they become “soulless”. The two organisations behind the report, Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, want more “home-like” environments, with single or twin-bedded rooms that give the elderly more privacy.
However, representatives from six nursing homes disagreed. They penned an ST forum letter saying that the money spent on building private bedrooms could be better spent on volunteer-recruitment and organising more activities.
Some elderly, they said, prefer to share a room because it makes them feel less lonely.
As Singapore argues over what the seniors want, back at St Bernadette, it seems the seniors are well-contented with their home.
Another resident, Madam Leong Mei Yong, has been at the home since it first opened.
The 95-year-old, who needs assistance moving around, said that there was no company at home as her children were always working. Her daughter, Ms Shirley Yap, 54, said that she decided on St Bernadette for her mother as it is near to her house and offers a private room for her mother.
Before St Bernadette, Madam Leong had stayed in Econ Medicare Centre as she lost her swallowing reflex. “She stayed there for four months until she could swallow. But she was getting to a stage where she was getting very weak, so she needed round-the-clock assistance,” said Ms Yap. Madam Leong recovered from her condition in December 2014.
Her daughter acted immediately when she heard of St Bernadette. “When this came out in the papers, I called in straightaway and came down on the same day,” said Ms Yap.
She brought her mother to see the facilities and her mother “liked it”, said Ms Yap. Madam Leong liked talking and going out to “walk” with friends. “At home there is no one, they are always working,” said Madam Leong in Mandarin, referring to her family.
Madam Lisa Lai, a fellow resident, concurs.
said the 85-year-old.
“Here I can talk to friends. No one takes care of me at home, so staying here is more convenient,”
As residents treat the facility like their own home, they are free to come and go as they please as long as they have company. At the time when TMG visited, one resident had gone to stay with her daughter who was back from the UK and another resident had brought friends over to visit.
Residents also have events to look forward to. Just a two weeks ago, residents of St Bernadette joined neighbouring nursing home Good Shepherd Loft for a Chinese New Year reunion dinner for the first time.
And if they feel that the festivities are too much for them at any one point, they always have the option of returning to the peace and privacy of their own bedrooms.
For Madam Lo, this peace is well cherished. “You can eat together, you can play together, but when we sleep we go in,” she said.
Featured image by Najeer Yusof.
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