Help available for Covid-19 patients with disabilities to recover at home: MOH

SG Assist has helped persons with disabilities, such as blind people, deaf people and stroke patients, on issues relating to home recovery. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Covid-19 patients with disabilities who are eligible to recover at home will be assigned a home recovery care manager, who will link them up with various community services and resources, among other things.

Telemedicine providers will also be informed of their disability so that they can better communicate with patients using the most appropriate methods, such as determining if seeing the patient in person is necessary.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) also works with other agencies, such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Agency for Integrated Care, to best support Covid-19 patients with disabilities who want to recover at home, an MOH spokesman said.

And those who do not have an able-bodied caregiver at home will be sent to the appropriate care or treatment facility, where its staff will attend to their needs.

MOH told The Straits Times this in response to a Facebook post by former Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong on Nov 10 that called for processes to be made more inclusive for persons with disabilities infected with the coronavirus.

Ms Ong said she has four deaf friends who caught Covid-19 in the past month.

One of them, a man in his 50s, was afraid of passing the virus to his elderly mother, who has underlying medical conditions, and his wife. But he was also fearful of being isolated in a recovery facility, given his communication difficulties.

He was also worried about the cost of treatment as he did not know it was free, Ms Ong said. His wife, who is deaf, also tested positive. The couple recovered at an isolation facility.

Currently, those who test positive or are close contacts of a Covid-19 patient are given a telephone number to call or are asked to visit the Government's Covid-19 website for more information and assistance, Ms Ong said.

But deaf people cannot call the authorities over the phone for help, those interviewed pointed out.

Ms Ong suggested that the authorities set up a text line where deaf people can communicate with MOH through text messages sent over the phone.

She said: "This will help the deaf and hard of hearing feel less distressed when they know there is a channel that they can access.

"We must not think that just because there's a website with information that many will go there. In a state of distress, one often is not in the state of mind to navigate through all that information - what more for those who do not have the savviness or literacy to do so."

Meanwhile, community and disability groups have stepped up to help infected persons with disabilities.

Since the first week of October, SG Assist has helped about 29 persons with disabilities, such as blind people, deaf people and stroke patients, on issues relating to home recovery, said its co-founder Adrian Tan. SG Assist is a social enterprise that connects volunteers with those in need in real time.

SG Assist co-founders Adrian Tan (left) and Greg Tan. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

For example, it links blind patients with its telemedicine partner, which will send healthcare professionals to their homes to swab them for free.

This is because blind people may not have a loved one to help them with self-testing or see the results of their antigen rapid test (ART) for Covid-19, Mr Tan said.

It also matches Covid-19 patients with disabilities to volunteers or organisations to help them buy groceries and assist with their other needs.

Mr Tan said of Covid-19 patients with disabilities: "They are very anxious and the isolation (when they are infected) makes it worse."

The Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) has partnered SG Assist to help blind people get tested for Covid-19.

The Tan Chin Tuan Foundation has also donated $10,000 to SAVH for it to buy ART kits for those it serves.

This is because some blind people face financial difficulties or find it hard to buy such kits from the store themselves, an SAVH spokesman said.

SAVH also plans to produce a video on how to use the ART. The video will be user-friendly for the visually impaired as it verbally narrates the instructions. It will be posted on SAVH's website when it is ready.

Ms Judy Lim, executive director of the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf), said it has helped members of the deaf community find out what to do if they are suspected or confirmed to have the virus. It also liaises with their caregivers and family members.

Both the SADeaf and Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) suggested that the authorities set up text-based communication channels, such as texting through mobile phones or the use of text boxes in video chats, as an option for deaf people and those who are less able to process information auditorily.

SG Enable, the agency set up by the MSF that supports people with disabilities, said such persons who need help in reaching MOH on Covid-19 matters can also reach out to SG Enable, which will do its best to support them.

SG Enable said it has worked with other agencies to improve front-line staff's understanding of persons with disabilities during the pandemic, such as working with its partners to vaccinate persons with disabilities living in care facilities.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has about 50 staff trained to identify and assist persons with disabilities who need to be swabbed, the MOH spokesman added, and HPB can hire service providers trained for this task if needed.

An SG Enable spokesman said: "Many of us face challenges in adapting and adjusting to various procedures for testing, vaccination and recovery. For persons with disabilities, they face even more challenges around accessing information, or adjusting to changes in routines."

To contact SG Enable, you can call 1800-8585-885 or e-mail contactus@sgenable.sg

You can contact SG Assist through its app, SG Assist, or text or call it on WhatsApp number 8126-1570.

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