Eldercare centres in a jam over transport

The ready availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles remains challenging for centres with clients like Madam Pang Guay Lian, who is lifted in her wheelchair into a retrofitted van with special hydraulic lifts whenever she goes for rehabilitation.
The ready availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles remains challenging for centres with clients like Madam Pang Guay Lian, who is lifted in her wheelchair into a retrofitted van with special hydraulic lifts whenever she goes for rehabilitation.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Care centres struggle to cater to growing number of clients who need specialised transportation

As Singapore ramps up infrastructure to meet the needs of its ageing population, a rising demand for transporting senior citizens is posing issues for the community care sector.

Many senior citizens need transport to get to and from daycare centres or rehabilitation appointments, and several centres told The Sunday Times they are struggling to keep up with the demand.

For instance, staff from St Andrew's Senior Care centre in Henderson had to put a halt to new client referrals because it cannot fit any more people into its packed transport schedule.

This means that while the centre has room for 60 senior citizens, it currently cannot take in more than 51 clients.

The majority of its current clientele require transport - either using taxis or the centre's one van. "The van has already reached maximum capacity for clients in daycare," said centre manager Julie Ong.

Its driver makes three trips a day - picking up the earliest clients at 7am and dropping off the last ones at 11am.

  • TODAY

    7,500 - Number of home care places for the elderly.

    4,000 - Number of daycare places.

    BY 2020 

    10,000 - Projected number of home care places for the elderly.

    6,200 - Projected daycare places.

Ms Ong added: "We cannot ask clients to come after 11am or half the day will already be gone."

Today, there are about 7,500 home care and 4,000 daycare places for the elderly.

The Ministry of Health plans to increase these numbers to 10,000 and 6,200 by 2020.

The rising numbers mean that demand will grow for transport for these senior citizens.

About 60 per cent of these clients will need some form of transport, said Mr Kelvin Lim, who is chief of the senior support and carer services development division at the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC).

The agency, which oversees the community care sector, has been working with private organisations to help those in the industry increase their transport capacity.

Its efforts include tie-ups with taxi company ComfortDelGro and private hire firm Uber, which has trained 500 drivers to assist wheelchair users and seniors with conditions such as dementia.

It has also partnered groups such as the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA), which has two rehabilitation centres serving around 140 clients. Six in 10 require transport.

On top of that, HWA provides transport for 10 other social service organisations, including nursing homes and senior care centres.

It currently has four buses and 39 vans to transport either its own clients or those of its partners.

"The demand for specialised transport has increased in recent years," said Mr Simon Ching, who is HWA's transport manager.

In the past financial year, it provided more than 38,000 trips to eight centres - up from around 17,000 trips to six centres in the previous year.

Mr Ching added: "The ready availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles remains a challenge, mainly in view of high operational costs."

These include the cost of retrofitting vehicles to accommodate wheelchairs, as well as certificate of entitlement prices.

One of the centres that has tapped AIC's help is St Luke's ElderCare in Ayer Rajah.

Centre manager Winsy Togelang said the transport situation is already tight even though the centre just opened in June this year.

"About one day a week we need extra help. That's when we tap taxis or outsource vehicles from Silveray," he added. Silveray is a company that provides wheelchair transport services.

The Ayer Rajah centre currently has 45 daycare clients, three-quarters of whom require some kind of transport. On top of that, its drivers also make trips during the afternoon to pick up seniors for rehabilitation appointments.

One of its daycare clients is Mr Chia Wang Chong, who started going to another St Luke's centre after a traffic accident in 2012.

The former construction foreman, who suffered from numbness on his right side after the accident, is picked up from his home in Bukit Batok at 8am on weekdays.

"It's very convenient," he said. "Otherwise, I would have to get my daughter to take me or settle it some other way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Eldercare centres in a jam over transport'. Print Edition | Subscribe