Call for more housing options beyond nursing homes for seniors

The number of elderly living alone is estimated to reach 92,000 by 2030.
The number of elderly living alone is estimated to reach 92,000 by 2030. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There is hardly any other housing options for elderly Singaporeans besides nursing homes and this is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed, a study on the state of nursing homes here recommended.

The number of elderly living alone increased from 6,000 in 1990 to 29,000 in 2011 and is estimated to reach 92,000 by 2030.

If these people find themselves in need of a place to live should they grow frail and do not have anyone to care for them at home, they can check themselves into only a nursing home now because there are hardly any other types of housing options available.

In countries such as the United States, Australia and Finland, about 5 per cent of the elderly population live in some form of residential aged care facility in the community. Going by the same estimation, that would mean about 50,000 seniors in Singapore needing such facilities by 2030, though there is only about 12,000 nursing home beds now.

Ms Radha Basu, a former journalist of 15 years who wrote the report, said: "Although Singapore's residential property market is awash with choice, there are hardly any affordable types of residential care for the elderly. Assisted living facilities are almost non-existent."

The 130-page report, commissioned by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation, is believed to be one of the rare comprehensive studies done on the Singapore nursing home segment.

For the report, Ms Basu, a former Straits Times journalist, interviewed 50 sector experts, including operators who run 40 of Singapore's 72 nursing homes, and long-term care experts.

Assisted living facilities are common and popular in Australia, Britain and the United States.

Nursing homes tend to have ward-like settings and they focus on providing round-the-clock medical care such as tube feeding and wound dressing.

Assisted living facilities provide a more home-like environment, such as private rooms, for more independent seniors who need personal care such as assistance with feeding or bathing.

The study also suggested raising the pay of foreign workers in order to address manpower shortage issues in the nursing home sector. The majority of the staff in nursing homes here are foreigners from countries such as the Philippines and Myanmar.

The study found that their starting pay, excluding food and accommodation, can be as low as $350 to $400, less than what some domestic workers make. Employers, however, must pay up to $450 per month in foreign worker levies. The report suggests channeling a part of these levies back into the pay.

Another recommendation is having a rating system for nursing homes - similar to Trip Advisor's ranking of hotels - for people to have an easier time in deciding which nursing home to send their loved ones to.

Such a rating systems will be possible only if more information such as vacancies, waiting times and fees are made public, something which is already being done for the childcare sector and hospitals, said Ms Basu.