Key role of community hospitals

THE opening of government-run community hospitals is not meant to nudge out voluntary welfare organisations that have long shaped this sector. The aim is to sharpen the current model of integrated care for patients in need of rehabilitation.

The key role played by voluntary welfare organisations in running community hospitals remains a crucial part of Singapore's healthcare system. Managed by charities or religious groups, these hospitals provide intermediate healthcare to the convalescent sick and aged who do not require the acute level of care offered by general hospitals. The services delivered by community hospitals have raised expectations to the point where patients and their families often seek nothing less than the standards that public hospitals can offer at their best. The record of the community hospitals shows that what matters to patients is whether an institution is able to fulfil its primary responsibility to its patients of keeping quality medical care affordable.

The governing mission of the upcoming community hospitals in Yishun and Jurong is to provide integrated care in the best way possible to promote the rehabilitation of patients. The link with a general hospital helps to ensure that patients are seen by the same medical teams, while freeing up beds in the general hospital for the seriously ill.

One issue is whether the government-run institutions can mirror the standards achieved by the voluntary welfare sector in, for example, the pastoral care of patients. A sense of purpose fired by religious or secular zeal sustains and motivates those who run community hospitals under the wings of voluntary welfare organisations. The challenge always is to import this sense of mission into institutions run by employees of a relatively detached state.

Human factors matter as the focus of community hospitals is to reintegrate patients into their usual surroundings - home, workplace and neighbourhood. With the right nursing care in the right setting, patients generally bounce back to health faster and return home sooner.

Given the important role they play in both rehabilitative care and intermediate medical care, one can expect to see more community hospitals being built over time. These should be welcomed in the heartland and elsewhere across the island, together with facilities providing long-term care, like nursing homes, home care, day care and rehabilitation facilities.

Building new acute hospitals and polyclinics alone won't do. Singapore will require a wider array of healthcare services in future, including new care models developed by all sectors.