First govt-run nursing home aims to push boundaries

The three-storey, 130-bed Pearl's Hill Care Home was officially opened by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong yesterday. It is operated by Vanguard Healthcare, which was set up by the Ministry of Health last year to run its own nursing homes. It also pr
The three-storey, 130-bed Pearl's Hill Care Home was officially opened by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong yesterday. It is operated by Vanguard Healthcare, which was set up by the Ministry of Health last year to run its own nursing homes. It also provides short-term rehabilitation services for patients just discharged from hospital.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Sensors to help prevent falls among efforts towards better eldercare at Chinatown home

From sensors that alert staff if frail residents leave their beds or toilets unassisted to mechanical wheelchair storage solutions, Singapore's first government-run nursing home is trying to "push the boundaries" in the eldercare sector.

The three-storey, 130-bed Pearl's Hill Care Home - on the site of what used to be Pearl's Hill School - was officially opened by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

The Chinatown facility is operated by Vanguard Healthcare, which was set up by the Ministry of Health (MOH) last year to run its own nursing homes.

MOH said two years ago that it would run several nursing homes to better understand the issues faced by operators, and come up with solutions and innovations in eldercare which can be adopted by others.

The ministry said that it intended to directly operate about 1,000 beds by 2020 - 6 per cent of the total here.

Latest statistics show the proportion of Singaporeans aged 65 and above grew from 13.1 per cent last year to 13.7 per cent this year.

There are more than 12,000 nursing home beds and the target is to have 17,000 in four years' time.

The second nursing home to be run by Vanguard will open in Woodlands at the end of next year.

"Vanguard will develop new models of care that are cost-effective while striving to provide affordable quality care to patients," said Mr Gan.

"We will share our experiences and innovations with other providers in the eldercare sector to push the boundaries, so as to benefit the sector as a whole."

The home is working with Ngee Ann Polytechnic to pilot projects: For example, to help prevent falls, sensors in the toilet will alert caregivers when the patient tries to stand up from the seat unassisted.

It is also trying out a space-saving solution for wheelchair storage by mechanically lifting the wheelchairs onto a two-tier rack.

However, at a time when several developed countries are moving towards having single- or double-bedded rooms for reasons of privacy and dignity in residential facilities for the elderly, this nursing home has four wards of 32 beds each.

Most nursing homes in Singapore have six or eight beds in a room.

Director of the home Gerald Ng said it must make do with the space it has: "It's refurbished from a former school and not purpose- built. I think residents do enjoy the proximity to one another and they like talking to each other."

Also, each ward has a different colour scheme and theme to help residents orientate and navigate themselves.

Besides long-term stays, Pearl's Hill Care Home also provides short- term rehabilitation services for patients after their hospital stays and before they return home.

Since it started operating in January, its 50-plus staff have cared for 159 residents. So far, 18 of them have gone home.

Madam Jamaliah Yacob, 61, was referred to the home for rehabilitation after her right foot was almost severed in an accident in February.

With the therapy she received, she is now able to walk again using a walking stick. Madam Jamaliah was discharged from the nursing home earlier this month.

She said: "Sometimes we have to wait because the home is short on staff, but I enjoy the monthly outings where they wheel us to the neighbourhood shopping centre and it is not so boring. "

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'First govt-run nursing home aims to push boundaries'. Print Edition | Subscribe