More home care staff needed in Singapore

Rising demand for such services sees scramble to find quality manpower

Demand for home care services is booming, causing a scramble among care operators to attract more quality manpower.

One of the largest players is NTUC Eldercare, which saw a 50 per cent increase in client numbers last year. It has about 100 care officers and is planning to nearly double this number in six years' time.

Another voluntary welfare group, Touch Community Services, wants to add 20 care staff to its current 76 by the end of the year. It had about 1,600 clients last year, a 20 per cent increase from 2012.

Home care patients are typically wheelchair-bound or bedridden and need help for daily tasks such as changing, bathing, or eating. Caregivers also conduct simple exercise sessions and in many cases lend a listening ear.

"It is not always easy or pleasant to do the job of caregiving to the elderly," said Ms Pang Sze Yunn of NTUC Eldercare, which began offering home care services in 2007. "So the sector as a whole may not attract as many workers as we need."

About 65 per cent of its care staff are part-timers who go through an in-house training programme which teaches them basic care techniques.

Many are housewives who are attracted by the flexible working hours.

"It allows them to meet the needs of their families while doing something meaningful for the community in their spare time," Ms Pang noted. "In addition, we try to match them with clients whose homes are located close to where they live."

Touch Home Care "taps into community resources" when it needs that little bit of extra manpower, such as by enlisting the help of neighbourhood GPs or locum nurses.

Its personal carers go through on-the-job training programmes to "better manage issues faced on the ground".

The organisation meets the home care needs of Toa Payoh, Jurong, and the outlying neighbourhoods, and is "reaching maximum capacity".

"We expect to see a waiting list for our services if new bases are not available soon," said Mr Kavin Seow, director of home care and caregiver services at Touch Community Services.

His conservative estimate is that demand will increase by 20 per cent each year.

Plans to expand into two other heartland areas by the middle of next year will allow the organisation to expand its manpower base, he said.

The Health Ministry (MOH) is looking to attract new faces to join the eldercare sector, especially mid-career professionals, retirees and housewives.

"As MOH expands the aged care sector... there will be ample new jobs that offer flexible work hours close to home," an MOH spokesman said.

Meanwhile, some private operators, like Active Global Specialised Caregivers, have managed to circumvent the manpower crunch by recruiting extensively from countries such as India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

Its caregivers live with their clients, providing round-the-clock care. About 50 are deployed at any one time.

Founder Yorelle Kalika said the company is also looking into hiring foreign manpower for respite care, which allows family members or full-time caregivers to take a break for a short period.

"Right now, all our respite care givers are local nurses who do freelance caregiving assignments for our clients," she said. "We are often very short-handed on this front."