SME Spotlight

Home care for seniors a sunrise industry

Ms Yorelle Kalika (standing near the door), founder and CEO of Active Global Specialised Caregivers, observing a training session for live-in caregivers from Myanmar and the Philippines last week.
Ms Yorelle Kalika (standing near the door), founder and CEO of Active Global Specialised Caregivers, observing a training session for live-in caregivers from Myanmar and the Philippines last week.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Care of the elderly is a booming business as Asia's ageing population grows. Singapore-based Active Global Specialised Caregivers has seen its turnover rising steadily since it started operations in 2012. In the first of a four-part series focusing on eldercare services firms, Active Global founder Yorelle Kalika tells Wong Siew Ying that more needs to be done to raise the professionalism of caregiving jobs.

Q What made you start the business?

A I started the business in 2012 after 15 years in the corporate sector as a management consultant. In corporate life, not everything you do has an impact on society.

I wanted to do something more meaningful, and I realised there was a gap in the eldercare services industry. There was a need for professional and affordable home-based care and nursing services. I felt it would be a successful venture.

Seeing how my grandmother took on the huge burden of caring for my late grandfather, who had Parkinson's disease, also played a role. I thought it was unfair to my grandmother; she's getting old herself and she deserved to rest. She deserved to get help caring for him.

Q What services does Active Global provide?

A We offer personalised home- based care to support frail and home-bound elderly people. Our trained caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, routine care and medication for patients with different medical conditions.

The condition that we see the most is dementia. It's overwhelmingly the No. 1 case for us. Dementia is a very tough condition to care for. Stroke is No. 2 and it's a condition that where good care is given, it really makes a difference in the patient's life.

Of course, we also care for patients with other conditions, including Parkinson's disease, cancer and those who are wheelchair- or bed-bound.

People come to us when a normal helper cannot do the job, and we are an alternative to a nursing home.

We provide a range of services, including live-in care - where the caregiver lives with the family - and other services such as private nurses, and subsidised interim care and home personal care where the caregiver visits the patient for a few hours each week.

Q What is the key difference between home-based care and care in a nursing home?

A The difference is night and day. For home-based care, the patient is in a familiar environment - around things he or she likes - and there is more privacy, compared with a nursing home.

The patient-to-caregiver ratio is one-to-one at home, while in a nursing home, he or she could be one of 10 people a caregiver there has to manage. Home-based care generally provides more personalised attentive care.

When our services are engaged, we would visit the family to determine the needs of the patient and then come up with a customised caregiving plan. The caregiver is selected through a placement process to make sure the person has the right skills and personality and is compatible with the patient.

Q How many caregivers do you hire and what training do they undergo?

A The number of caregivers that we hire has been increasing over the years. We have 635 in Singapore, of whom 550 are live-in caregivers.

Most of our caregivers are qualified foreign-trained nurses, auxiliary nurses or nursing aides who have had experience caring for patients.

Some of them have even worked in an ICU (intensive care unit) in the Philippines or Sri Lanka.

We provide them with one week of training, followed by an induction process where a trainer would observe their performance on the job.

Local home personal care attendants with less experience or qualification may undergo 70 to 80 hours of training over two weeks, and they would also be evaluated on the job by our trainers.

Q How has the business performed and what is the growth strategy?

A I expect revenue to double or triple this year. Next year will be the same. There's been significant growth.

After starting the firm here, we expanded rapidly. As it's still early days in the home-care industry in Asia, we wanted to set foot on the ground early - we went into Shanghai in 2013 and then Hong Kong in 2014.

If you look at the size of the market, we are only scratching the surface. There are close to a million elderly people in Singapore, and with all my services, we are serving only fewer than 1,000.

We will continue to grow. I think this industry is quite fragmented, with many different companies, some are very small, some are too specialised. Maybe there is a need for consolidation, which will be helpful for clients to find the right service provider that suits them.

At the moment, we are focused on the three markets, but we may look at another Asian market next year.

Q What is a key challenge for your business?

A Manpower is always a challenge, and there's also more work to be done to change the image of the profession.

I think many people still glorify air-con jobs, white-collar jobs, and do not give enough credit to hands- on jobs that have a real impact on lives. They are sometimes seen as dirty jobs and as not prestigious.

We are doing our part to professionalise the job. We offer proper training and support, provide name tags and uniforms, and give our caregivers a career path so they feel that they can grow with the company. For example, one of them was promoted to be a trainer.

There is a need for a more supportive ecosystem to attract nursing talent because Singapore is facing stiff competition from other countries, like Japan and those in the Middle East, for them.

We also try to generate our own talent pipeline via our recruitment offices in India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, and partners in the Philippines. Come July 1, we will start a caregiver academy in Surabaya, Indonesia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Home care for seniors a sunrise industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe