SINGAPORE – Elderly and vulnerable residents in the Cheng San-Seletar neighbourhood will have a closer eye kept on them by a network of hawkers, postmen and shopkeepers, among others.
These are the familiar faces in the neighbourhood who can alert Cheng San Community Club when they notice something amiss, such as a resident’s overflowing letter box or regular patrons missing their usual coffee sessions.
Speaking at a community visit on Sunday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that given Singapore’s ageing population, the welfare of seniors is a priority for the Government and the Ministry of Health.
“With community assets, plus the ground troops like the different volunteers and agencies working the ground, I hope we can reach out to as many seniors as possible,” said Mr Ong. “Maybe if they are successful, we can scale them up.”
About 20 hawker stalls at Chong Boon Market & Food Centre are participating in a pilot programme where the hawkers will be trained by Touch Community Services to keep a lookout for regular elderly patrons showing signs of distress or who do not show up for days.
A dementia care workshop will also be organised for volunteers and organisations in the area, to teach them about the signs and symptoms of those with dementia or in mental distress.
And four more Housing Board blocks with a higher proportion of elderly residents will be added to the existing three blocks monitored by SingPost postmen.
This follows a successful three-month pilot programme from September to November 2022, during which postmen monitored letter boxes for irregularities in mail collection patterns among residents, especially when mail was not collected for a long time. While the postmen found some anomalies, these turned out to be false alarms.
Postmen, shopkeepers or others can alert Cheng San Community Club to any anomalies or irregularities. Grassroots volunteers will then be activated to visit the residents and check on them.
Mr Lee Sian Hock, 56, owner of Guan Hock Coffee Stall at Chong Boon Market & Food Centre, is among the hawkers and shop owners who have volunteered to receive training in the pilot programme.
“(The initiative) is good – I’ll know how to identify seniors who need help because, for now, I only know my regulars,” said Mr Lee, who has worked in the area for 30 years. “I will try to help however I can.”
Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, the MP for Cheng San-Seletar ward, who launched the Care Network-Living Well initiative in December 2021 to equip the community with awareness about mental health issues, said such initiatives are about having more eyes and ears on the ground.
She noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on seniors, causing some of them to feel more withdrawn and afraid to step out of their homes, with some not knowing who to reach out to for help.
“A lot of the organisations like the ageing centres are in physical spaces, but we want to try to draw as many seniors out as possible and go down to the nodes where they are... like with the TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) mobile van,” Ms Nadia said.
She was referring to a plan by Cheng San Community Club and TCM clinic Thong Chai Medical Institution to roll out a minibus clinic in March to visit residents in public and private estates once every two weeks.
This allows residents to get basic TCM consultations and advice on well-being from certified TCM physicians at their doorsteps. Consultations are free, but residents can offer a donation if they wish.
Mr Ong said: “We don’t want to only see (seniors) when they’re sick... With an active ageing lifestyle where you eat the right things; sleep the right way; have friends, care and love, you can stay healthy for as long as possible.”