COVID-19 SPECIAL

Nursing home residents look forward to visitors with reopening; homes step up precautions

Authorities had halted visits to homes caring for the elderly to minimise the risk of Covid-19. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - It has been months since 50-year-old Tan Joo Huat has seen his brother.

The resident at Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home in Yishun has not been allowed to have visitors since April 2, when the authorities halted visits to homes caring for the elderly in Singapore to minimise the risk of Covid-19.

From Friday (June 19), visitors are allowed again, with restrictions based on guidelines by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), which oversee nursing homes and welfare homes.

Mr Tan said that he has been looking forward to phase two of the reopening to meet his brother, whose last visit was in February.

"Although I was able to communicate with him through video calls when I needed to talk to him, meeting him physically will still be the best," said Mr Tan. His brother will be visiting on Monday.

Similarly, Ms Chua Bee Geok, 73, is eagerly awaiting visits from her younger brother and sister.

"Before Covid-19, they would visit me once a month and sometimes on public holidays," said Ms Chua, a resident at Singapore Cheshire Home in Serangoon, which cares for the chronically ill or permanently disabled.

"On the phone, I can only hear their voice. While I know that the circuit breaker was introduced for our safety, I prefer seeing my siblings face to face and I miss seeing them," she added.

Although visitors have been allowed, measures are in place to reduce the risk of transmission. MOH on Wednesday released guidelines for nursing home visits, limiting them to half an hour, and each resident to one visitor a day. Residents are allowed up to two designated visitors.

The ministry also encouraged nursing homes to schedule appointments for visiting, and to take additional precautions such as a dedicated visitation area.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, an MSF spokesman said the same visitation rules are in place for welfare homes.

She added that there is a limit of up to 10 visitors within a home at any point in time, with visits to take place at designated areas outside of living quarters and away from other residents.

The resident and visitor have to maintain a 1m safe distance apart from each other, and homes may install plastic screens for added protection, said the spokesman.

Homes contacted by The Straits Times said that they would be following the guidelines strictly, with some adding their own crowd control and safety distancing measures. These include having to declare travel and health history, and to use SafeEntry.

A Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore) spokesman said visiting hours are split into two blocks, from 10am to noon and 5pm to 8pm. It has designated visitor areas at each ward level that will be disinfected after each visit. Visitors are not allowed to enter the wards.

Madam Low Mui Lang, executive director of The Salvation Army's Peacehaven Nursing Home in Changi, said the home had sent text messages to all family members informing them of the new guidelines.

The home has implemented four hours of visitation a day, with a maximum of eight visitors for each time slot.

"Additional manpower will be deployed over the next few days to direct the visitors and supervise the visits to ensure safety," said Madam Low.

Ms Janice Tan, NTUC Health's residential care head in charge of nursing homes, said each floor of its three nursing homes will allow only one visitor at a time.

Clear acrylic partitions will separate visitors from residents to minimise the risk of droplets spreading, said Ms Tan, adding that the homes have allocated a 30-minute interval between visits to allow for cleaning to take place.

An advisory for visitors on the Orange Valley Nursing Home website showed that similar rules are in place, and visitors are also not allowed to have close contact with the residents or feed them. Outside food is also not allowed to be brought in.

Retired lawyer Michael Shah, 63, has been counting the days since he last saw his wife, 65, who has Alzheimer's disease and has been in the Orange Valley home in Clementi since 2007.

Before the ban on visits, Mr Shah would visit her five times a week for several hours on each occasion, to watch movies with her on an iPad and massage her arms and legs. Video calls during this period have not been a viable option as his wife cannot speak, and has limited periods of awareness.

Mr Shah has made an appointment to see her on Sunday at 11am, making it 81 days since they last met on April 1.

"I just hope she still remembers me," he said.

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