Evaluate future need for dorm-style nursing homes

Representatives from a few nursing homes have responded in a letter ("Nursing homes have made efforts to raise standards"; last Thursday) to a study, entitled Safe But Soulless, commissioned by us, on the state of nursing-home care in Singapore.

We thank the writers for acknowledging the challenges highlighted by the study.

Many points made by the signatories have already been made in the study. For instance, the letter states that while there may be a need for more eldercare options, not everyone prefers single rooms.

Our study, which interviewed more than 50 long-term care experts, including nursing-home operators, notes that opinion is divided on whether Singapore should have subsidised single or twin-bed rooms in nursing homes, and meticulously presents both points of view.

Given space and cost constraints, it has never been our position that Singapore build only single rooms. We would, however, like greater diversity and choice.

The letter also states that more studies are required to understand and represent the preferences of seniors.

One such survey of nearly 1,000 respondents released yesterday by Lien Foundation and NTUC Income shows that 60 per cent agree that residents should stay in single or twin-bed rooms rather than in six-bed wards.

It is worth noting that Japan, including densely packed Tokyo, stopped building dorm-style nursing homes more than 40 years ago. Yet, nursing homes in Singapore continue to house between six and 30 residents in a room. Many live like that for years.

It's time to carefully evaluate whether we should continue building such taxpayer-funded, dorm-style homes, given that it will be very expensive to retrofit them to keep pace with changing preferences of future cohorts of the elderly.

Another 5,000 nursing-home beds are expected to come on-stream by 2020. We suggest that these be made future-proof with a majority of single and twin-bed rooms and some four-bed wards.

The study also details progress by nursing homes to shore up care and better balance health and safety needs with succour for the soul by engaging residents in meaningful activities.

Indeed, some homes are doing a remarkable job in these areas, despite manpower constraints, and the study shares their best practices across two chapters.

However, even the best homes here pale in comparison with the best available in other advanced nations. Collectively, we can do better - and we must.

Lee Poh Wah

Chief Executive

Lien Foundation and on behalf of Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Evaluate future need for dorm-style nursing homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe