Homing in on nursing homes

Mr Tan Tzeh Phang, an amputee who is paralysed from the waist down, was admitted to Ren Ci Nursing Home since year 2007.PHOTO: ST FILE

Ren Ci's upcoming nursing home in Ang Mo Kio next year will try out a dementia-friendly concept of "cluster living", with residents having rooms with four beds, a shared living space, an activity area, a dining area and bathrooms.

This is a pilot by the Ministry of Health (MOH), to create more home-like environments in nursing homes. MOH said it will also partner other care providers to explore new models of care that give residents greater independence and autonomy.

While long overdue, these are good and important goals.

Ask senior citizens living in a nursing home if they chose to live there and chances are that most would say no. It is also common for family members to ask nursing home staff to lie to their aged parent or spouse that they are there for just a short stay.

A nursing home is a place of last resort, such as when the old person is not well but does not have family members to take care of him or her.

This is an undesirable situation given that many more Singaporeans will stay in long-term care facilities in the years to come.

How, then, can nursing homes change from being places that dispense care to places of living?

Having more single- and double-bed rooms will help, instead of the usual six- to eight-bed dormitories. Such configurations are the norm in other developed countries because privacy is a key aspect of quality of life.

Cost and land scarcity considerations can be tackled by building nursing homes modelled after high-rise Housing Board flats.

Beyond infrastructure, our care philosophy must evolve to genuinely view the elderly person as a subject rather than an object.

Instead of following regimented routines, their individual needs and preferences should be acknowledged. The power dynamics between residents and staff should change so that the seniors are empowered to make decisions.

May the new facility in Ang Mo Kio be the start of many to come that residents will be proud to call home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Homing in on nursing homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe