More help for lone seniors under new eldercare system

By the end of the year, seniors who live alone and need help will be more likely to receive it, with a more coordinated system helmed by key eldercare providers. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
By the end of the year, seniors who live alone and need help will be more likely to receive it, with a more coordinated system helmed by key eldercare providers. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Island to be divided into zones, with each overseen by an anchor operator

By the end of the year, seniors who live alone and need help will be more likely to receive it, with a more coordinated system helmed by key eldercare providers.

This is crucial because the number of seniors living alone is expected to grow from 35,000 in 2012, to 83,000 by 2030.

Under the new system, the island will be divided into zones. Community eldercare in each zone will be overseen by an anchor operator appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Each zone will contain up to five senior activity centres, which used to mainly run social and recreational activities for seniors, and three senior group homes, where elderly residents with little or no family support live together.

Existing facilities run by other eldercare providers can continue to operate, supported by the anchor operators. But new centres and group homes in each zone can be set up only by its anchor operator, said eldercare providers.

In each zone, a main centre, with about five case managers who have social work experience, will support the others. The case managers will counsel vulnerable elderly and visit them at home.

Since 2012, the MSF has set up 10 such clusters from the existing 58 senior activity centres. Its target is to have 16 clusters by 2016 to support about 39,000 seniors.

This comes as more centres and group homes are being built. The number of group homes will rise from two now to 60 by 2016.

The Straits Times understands that at least three major eldercare providers are in talks with the MSF to form the first batch of anchor operators and roll out this system later this year.

Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities is likely to take care of Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah/Outram. Lions Befrienders will probably lead Queenstown/Clementi, while Touch Community Services will head the central region.

Industry players say this is a landmark move as it changes the model of help from one that requires the elderly to take the initiative if they need help, to one that brings aid to their doorstep.

"Some elderly people may not be able to come to us even though they need help.

"So, if every block is covered within a zone where home visits are done, the likelihood of vulnerable elderly being overlooked is slim," said Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities divisional director Joseph Cheong.

The centres did not do home visits in the past as they lacked expertise and manpower.

Under the new system, retirees and housewives will be roped in to do so a few times a week, for $5 per visit. They will refer seniors who need help to case managers.

The MSF said it is finalising the implementation details and will provide more information later.

The anchor operator concept has been tested in the pre-school sector. The five pre-school anchor operators get government grants to ramp up the number of childcare centre places, keep fees low and provide quality services.

However, their centres are not limited to specific regions.

Taking charge of certain zones will help eldercare providers better monitor frail or homebound elderly, and help them access the myriad of services in those zones, industry players said.

Senior activity centres and senior group homes in one area would have stronger synergy from being run by the same eldercare provider, Lions Befrienders executive director Goh Boo Han said.

For instance, a group home may house a centre in its void deck. "The seniors living in the home can come down to the centre for activities and its staff can look out for them," Mr Goh said.

The centres used to reach out only to rental flat residents, but with the extra hands on deck, some, such as Touch Seniors Activity Centre, now cater to others.

Its director, Ms Julia Lee, said: "If we want to enable our seniors to continue growing old in the community, then there needs to be enough support services for them at the estate level."

jantai@sph.com.sg