The 428-bed Yishun Community Hospital (YCH) opened its doors to patients yesterday, a move that should ease the bed crunch faced by the adjoining Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).
Two wards, with 68 beds in total, are now open, said Ms Pauline Tan, Singapore's former chief nurse who now heads YCH. Five wards, with 170 beds in all, will be opened by next April, she added.
The hospital will gradually open its other wards, but is not expected to be fully open by next year.
Yesterday, the new hospital took in its first dozen patients, all recovering patients from the 590-bed KTPH, where space is tight as its occupancy rate averages more than 95 per cent - the highest of all public hospitals here.
About 200 of YCH's beds can be converted for use by KTPH should the need arise. Such "swing beds" are now the norm for community hospitals next to a general hospital.
The new hospital, which will also house the Geriatric Education and Research Institute, costs $320 million. A community hospital generally costs about half as much as a general hospital to build and operate, as its patients are not critically ill, but on the road to recovery.
Ms Tan said the hospital is opening "on time and on budget".
YCH mimics the home environment, she said. Patients who are able to, have to eat their meals in the dining area and not in bed. The idea is to get them well and home as soon as possible, she said.
Alexandra Health System (AHS), which runs KTPH and YCH, has a team of 30 people - nurses, therapists and a doctor - who visit patients at home to help them manage their transition back to their homes and any chronic ailment.
Speaking to the media after a tour of YCH yesterday, Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said more than 900 hospital beds have been added this year, with more in the coming two years as Sengkang and Outram hospitals come on line.
He said the Ministry of Health has been building up capacity to prepare for the nation's rapidly ageing population, which is expected to require more healthcare services.
The challenge, he said, is to ensure long-term sustainability. If healthcare costs cannot be kept in check, "it could end up adding to a patient's financial burden".
One way is to use technology to reduce the need for manpower, Mr Chee said. An example would be the four hoists YCH has in two of its wards, which cost $160,000.
Using these hoists, which run on ceiling tracks, two nurses are able to move a heavy, non-ambulatory patient from bed to chair or bathroom. Without the hoist, four or five nurses are needed.
Another way to keep healthcare costs in check is to work closely with the private and voluntary sectors to promote healthy living so people stay out of hospital, he said.
Mr Chee was happy to note that the patients he spoke to were all hoping to go home soon.
Security guard Sulaiman Kamsani, 58, who has been in and out of hospital over the past two months for a heart problem and an infection, said: "My daughter is getting engaged. She's waiting for me to get home."
Housewife Lim Soon Kiow, 71, too wants to go home as soon as the infection in her leg is cured.
Dr Wong Sweet Fun, a senior geriatric physician with AHS, said while patients are warded, doctors will check if they have anything else that needs fixing. Mr Sulaiman and Madam Lim, for example, have missing teeth. Dr Wong said they would be sent to the dental clinic in the hospital to get dentures fixed.