Charity HealthServe marks 10 years of offering low-cost medical care, social assistance to migrant workers

Dr Goh Wei Leong outside the Healthserve clinic at 1, Lorong 23 Geylang, which provides low-cost healthcare to migrant workers. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - It takes a community to help migrant workers who need affordable medical care and social assistance.

This is the belief of Dr Goh Wei Leong, the co-founder of HealthServe, which has grown from strength to strength and marks the 10th anniversary of its first clinic this year.

"Its not just about dishing out medicine. It's about the human community. (In the early days), I realised we needed social workers, counsellors, and legal advisory."

The non-governmental organisation has dental and medical clinics in Geylang, Mandai and Jurong catering to migrant workers. It also provides social assistance to those in distress.

Dr Goh, 57, a general practitioner, co-founded HealthServe with businessman Tang Shin Yong in 2006. At the start, it was registered as a company limited by guarantee, but became a charity in 2011.

Singapore has about one million low-wage migrant workers from the developing world, making up nearly 30 per cent of the workforce.

On Tuesday (Dec 12) at around 6.30pm, a long queue had already started to form outside at HealthServe's clinic at 1, Lorong 23 Geylang.

The workers pay $5 for each visit. Those on a Special Pass who are unable to work after lodging an injury or salary claim with the Manpower Ministry need not pay.

One of the men in line was Bangladeshi construction worker Faruk Hossain, 36, who is diabetic and was there to take a blood test.

"Here, I need to give only $5. In other places, it might be $50. Companies might get angry if medical receipts are too expensive," he said.

HealthServe's social work manager Jeffrey Chua has seen about 20 workers with spinal cord injuries during his seven years there.

Those who end up severely injured, could find themselves in a "waiting game" to go home while they wait for their injuries to heal and compensation to be settled.

"We work very closely with the Ministry of Manpower and hospitals," added Mr Chua, who has seen his fair share of "nasty" employers.

Some do not report workplace injuries, deny their workers sick leave wages, or withhold their employees' medical reports.

HealthServe's clinics treat basic ailments. For more major injuries, workers are linked with private doctors who don't charge a fee.

It also has non-medical centres in Little India and Tai Seng .

It has 10 full-time staff, 70 active volunteer doctors who work there in their spare hours, 20 dentists, and 300 volunteers who are nurses, pharmacists, housewives, students, counsellors and administrative officers.

The number of yearly consultations doubled from fewer than 4,000 in 2015 to nearly 8,000 by the end of last year.

This year, it also helped 445 workers with work injury and salary-related cases, dished out more than 20,200 free meals, gave out 1,458 MRT top-ups, and housed 30 workers in two emergency shelters.

It offers orthopaedic and dermatological clinics once a month.

In the year ahead, HealthServe will enter a more "reflective" phase, pumping more resources into research and to campaign for causes - like ensuring workers get entitled pay while they are on sick leave.

"Our dream is to work ourselves out of a job. To close HealthServe once there is enough public responsibility, and workers are cared for by employers," Dr Goh said.

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