COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: Nursing homes in Singapore get a hand with swab tests, training

Healthcare workers helping homes for elderly with virus testing, staff training

Staff from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital placing swab samples into a bag for transportation.
Staff from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital placing swab samples into a bag for transportation.PHOTO: KHOO TECK PUAT HOSPITAL

Nursing homes are getting reinforcements in their battle against Covid-19, with Singapore's three healthcare clusters helping to train their staff and carry out swab tests.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Friday that all 30,000 residents and staff of residential care homes - comprising nursing homes, welfare homes, sheltered homes and adult disability homes - will be tested for the coronavirus.

Of these, 25,000 are staff and residents of nursing homes, who will be tested by early next month.

As an added precaution, staff in residential care facilities who interact with patients will have to stay on site, or move to hotels until the circuit breaker is lifted.

For the past week, workers have been busy transforming a new admissions building at the Salvation Army's nursing home in Changi, Peacehaven Nursing Home, into accommodation for staff, who did not like the idea of staying in a hotel.

Some are also staying at Jade Circle next door, the Salvation Army's eldercare facility that has upcoming residential care apartments.

The Salvation Army said it already had 46 staff staying on site before the pandemic, and would now have 143.

Executive director of Peacehaven Low Mui Lang said staff had been diligent in keeping themselves and residents safe and recently concluded tests showed they were all negative for the virus. "Hence, some staff were initially a little down after hearing the recent requirement, but they have come to understand the rationale," she told The Sunday Times.

People aged 60 and above are most vulnerable to the disease, and have accounted for 90 per cent of Covid-19 deaths here.

Assisting the mammoth task of testing and training, National Healthcare Group's Khoo Teck Puat Hospital took over 1,200 swabs in two nursing homes and one welfare home.

Senior consultant geriatrician Wong Sweet Fun said on Friday that 57 staff from 11 nursing homes also learnt how to don and doff personal protective equipment, conduct swabs and handle specimens.

 
 

Meanwhile, community nurses from Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) helped train staff in some 20 nursing homes and home-care providers in the central region.

The clinical director for TTSH's division for central health, Associate Professor Ian Leong, said teams also conducted some 700 swabs, provided guidance on infection control measures and gave emotional and psychological support.

Under the SingHealth cluster, 16 doctors and nurses from Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital, Sengkang General Hospital and SingHealth Polyclinics trained 100 staff from 22 nursing homes to take swabs and handle samples.

SingHealth's deputy group chief executive (regional health system), Professor Lee Chien Earn, said 2,230 staff from 16 nursing homes had been swabbed.

The National University Health System (NUHS) also helped train 68 staff from 14 different nursing homes.

A spokesman for All Saints Home (Jurong East) said the home was grateful for NUHS' support. The public healthcare clusters also expressed gratitude to their staff for taking on these extra duties.

 
 

MOH said on Friday a comprehensive testing programme would be put in place, going forward, to test staff and residents periodically.

Commenting on the new measures at nursing homes, infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital yesterday said Covid-19 had upended the way people work and socialise. He said: "This will be the new way our lives work, until we achieve zero cases consistently in Singapore, or the whole world eradicates the virus successfully together, or an effective vaccine becomes readily available."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline 'Nursing homes get a hand with swab tests'. Subscribe