A home away from home for children who are critically ill

Assisi Hospice's paediatric ward has well-decorated spaces created for patients and their families, including a playroom, five single-bed rooms, as well as space for family members to stay overnight. Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting il
Assisi Hospice's paediatric ward has well-decorated spaces created for patients and their families, including a playroom, five single-bed rooms, as well as space for family members to stay overnight. Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting illnesses may be admitted into the hospice's new programme, which will be piloted for three years.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
Assisi Hospice's paediatric ward has well-decorated spaces created for patients and their families, including a playroom, five single-bed rooms, as well as space for family members to stay overnight. Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting il
Assisi Hospice's paediatric ward has well-decorated spaces created for patients and their families, including a playroom, five single-bed rooms, as well as space for family members to stay overnight. Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting illnesses may be admitted into the hospice's new programme, which will be piloted for three years.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG
Assisi Hospice's paediatric ward has well-decorated spaces created for patients and their families, including a playroom, five single-bed rooms, as well as space for family members to stay overnight. Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting il
Assisi Hospice's paediatric ward has well-decorated spaces created for patients and their families, including a playroom, five single-bed rooms, as well as space for family members to stay overnight. Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting illnesses may be admitted into the hospice's new programme, which will be piloted for three years.ST PHOTOS: SEAH KWANG PENG

Critically ill children have, for the first time, a place they can stay to be cared for under a new programme being piloted at Assisi Hospice.

While palliative care for children at home is available from other organisations like HCA Hospice Care, this is the first programme to offer such care in a facility.

Children under the age of 21 with life-limiting illnesses such as cancer, blood disorders or organ failure may be admitted into the programme. The paediatric ward also provides respite care.

Supported by Temasek Foundation Cares, the programme was launched by Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday. A programme for patients with advanced dementia was also launched.

Assisi Hospice's head of medical services Shirlynn Ho said that the needs of children differ from those of adults.

"Children are still growing, learning and playing," she said. "We want to provide a childhood or adolescence for them."

Before the programme and specialised ward at Assisi Hospice became available, families had no in-between option. "For example, when children don't need that intensive level of care (from hospitals), yet cannot manage the nursing care at home, " she explained.

Hospice care also removes limitations like visiting hours. "This programme helps to alleviate the stress for caregivers, so they can focus on spending quality time with their family members," she added.

This model of care will be piloted for three years, with $1.1 million from Temasek Foundation Cares.

The paediatric ward has a playroom, playground and space for family members to stay overnight. It also has five single-bed rooms, one of which is occupied at the moment.

Patient Kelly Ho, 17, was admitted to the hospice last month following a seizure and infection. 

She has Gaucher disease, a metabolic disease characterised by progressive brain degeneration.

Assisi Hospice clinical director Patricia Neo said Kelly's mother Sally Lim had been experiencing caregiver fatigue and burnout from a lack of adequate rest.

"A paediatric ward like this provides Kelly's mum with much- needed respite in this care journey," she said. It costs $295 a day, but government subsidies can cover up to 75 per cent of the fees.

Describing the ward as well-decorated and child-friendly, with space for family members, Dr Khor said: "It allows them (the children) to have a good quality of care and good quality of life even in their last days."

Correction note: This story has been edited to correct the name of Ms Kelly Ho. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'A home away from home for children who are critically ill'. Print Edition | Subscribe