Falling ill is a stressful time for housewife Lakkham Thitikan Joy, 46, as she has to keep a constant watch over her daughter Bella Tan, 17.
Bella has a rare genetic disorder called oculocerebrocutaneous syndrome, which causes malfunctions in her eyes, brain and skin. She cannot talk, is bed bound and eats through a feeding tube.
She also gets seizures frequently, and there is a perpetual risk of her choking on her own saliva.
"If that happens, she can die in a matter of minutes," said Dr Chong Poh Heng, medical director of HCA Hospice Care, which has been providing paediatric palliative care services to the family.
Madam Lakkham is thus on standby all the time. Even when she is cooking, she keeps an eye on her daughter through a remote monitor. But that was hard to do in October, when Madam Lakkham had to attend her sister-in-law's funeral.
She reached out to HCA for help, and the organisation tapped a healthcare tech outfit named Jaga-Me, which provided a home nurse to relieve Madam Lakkham and look after Bella.
Set up by three young adults in November last year, the company taps freelance nurses - mostly stay-at-home mothers or those furthering their studies - to provide quality nursing services to those receiving care at home.
While HCA is able to provide respite to caregivers of their 60 palliative care youth patients through a volunteer programme called Medi Minders, the trained volunteers are not certified nurses and cannot stay on for more than a few hours.
HCA's nurses perform more of a consultancy and monitoring role, letting caregivers know what needs to be done, rather than providing home care.
Dr Chong said: "Someone who looks after palliative patients who are children needs to be confident and dependable. The parents must be able to trust them."
So from September, HCA partnered Jaga-Me to plug what Dr Chong called gaps in its service.
Jaga-Me activated a freelance nurse who attended to Bella on short notice when Madam Lakkham had a high fever and when her sister-in-law died.
Matching clients to care professionals
Started in April, Homage matches clients who need care at home to a pool of registered nurses and caregivers.
Clients can sign up with Homage - which runs in a similar way to Jaga-Me - and enter their care needs. Care professionals can enter their qualifications and experience into the system, which then pairs seniors with qualified caregivers.
Co-founder Gillian Tee, 34, said Homage has provided more than 5,000 hours of caregiving to elderly patients here, with services such as housekeeping, wound dressing and injections. Prices range from $22 to $25 an hour.
Homage has 150 care professionals on board. Half are certified nurses, while the rest are trained as patient care associates or have formerly cared for family members.
The caregivers go through an in-person interview and background check, and receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification, among other things, said Ms Tee.
• For more information, visit www.homage.sg or call on 6100-0055
Since then, Jaga-Me has helped six other HCA youth patients.
"We want to be the Uber of healthcare," said Mr Julian Koo, 29, one of Jaga-Me's co-founders, referencing the on-demand taxi service filling the gap in transport systems worldwide.
Health Ministry statistics show there were 5,221 nurses who were not in active practice last year.
Mr Koo wants to tap that manpower source to provide home care.
He said: "Some of them might not be able to work in the hospital setting because they have young children, or because they are furthering their studies. But that doesn't mean they cannot work as freelancers."
Jaga-Me has more than 50 nurses on board, each with at least three years' experience in a public hospital and a valid nursing certificate. It has provided 3,000 hours of services to 200 families here.
Jaga-Me said it can provide a nurse within three hours, compared with a wait of up to two weeks if a family were to look for a home-care nurse through the hospital system.
Fees are also about 30 per cent cheaper than going through hospitals or private nursing companies, said Mr Koo, adding: "It averages at about $20 an hour."
Another social enterprise with the same idea, Homage, has provided more than 5,000 hours of caregiving since it launched in April.
Both have received funding from organisations such as the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, DBS Foundation and Singtel.
Dr Chong said he sees potential to expand the partnership with Jaga-Me to help HCA's adult patients, although the charity currently has funding only for its children's programme.
"I also see benefits for adult patients. Particularly when the patients are dying, you don't want caregivers to be preoccupied with care. They should be able to connect with their loved ones instead," said Dr Chong.
• To book a nurse on Jaga-Me, visit www.jaga-me.com or call 8498-4598