Coronavirus: Nursing homes get care staff to stay on site

The Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson Lane.
The Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson Lane.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Amid growing concerns about nursing homes emerging as coronavirus clusters, at least two nursing homes have their own version of a lockdown, asking their staff to stay on site.

Another nursing home has set up "mailboxes" at its security post so that children and grandchildren of residents who can no longer visit can drop off notes to them.

This week, the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson Lane saw three more cases, making it a total of 16 cases, including an 86-year-old who died. Another home, Moral Home for the Aged Sick, has had one case.

Accordingly, Singapore's nursing homes are stepping up measures to ring-fence their residents from the virus as well as ensure they are not suffering from the social isolation imposed.

Since last Thursday, visitors have been banned from nursing homes.

There are 77 nursing homes in Singapore, with a capacity of about 16,000 beds. In the fourth quarter of 2018, there were around 12,000 Singapore residents receiving subsidies to stay in nursing homes.

Most are aged at least 70, with about four in 10 aged 80 and above.

These seniors are especially vulnerable to the virus because they are frail, with compromised immune systems and multiple existing illnesses.

Nursing homes across the United States, for example, have become hot spots for infections, with outbreaks in long-term care facilities and retirement com-munities. In New York, as at the end of last month, nearly 15 per cent of the state's 1,200 Covid-19-related deaths were residents of nursing homes.

Sree Narayana Mission in Yishun has recalled its care staff who are foreigners to stay in the staff dormitory within the nursing home during the circuit-breaker period. It added 40 more beds to its male and female staff dormitories so that all its 91 foreign care staff can live within the home.

Since February, they have not been allowed to go out in public. Local workers can commute home.

At The Salvation Army Peacehaven nursing home in Upper Changi Road North, its 32-strong staff - a mix of Singaporeans and foreigners - have been asked to stay on site in a separate building from the home itself. But they are allowed to go out in public.

Meanwhile, Methodist Welfare Services, which runs two nursing homes, has stopped professional services provided by external parties such as podiatry, pharmacy, dietetics and speech therapy.

Nursing home operators interviewed said some of their resi-dents are feeling anxious about the outbreak, but are generally coping well. Mr Joe Hau, chief executive of Ren Ci Hospital, which runs the Ren Ci nursing home in Ang Mo Kio, said: "It is normal for nursing home residents to feel anxious as the number of confirmed cases continues to climb daily, though our staff's regular updates of the Covid-19 situation does help to reduce their anxiety."

At Thye Hua Kwan nursing home in Hougang, its chief executive Ardi S. Hardjoe said there are no signs of anxiety or any unusual behaviour among its seniors. Half of its 273 residents have dementia.

Madam Low Mui Lang, executive director of the Peacehaven nursing home, said residents with mental impairment would not be able to understand the current situation. "Hence, we do our best to normalise their routine and reduce their anxiety," she said.

The ban on family visits does add to their sense of social isolation. But nursing homes are trying to mitigate against that.

One way is by ensuring residents still get to eat home-cooked meals delivered by their families, said Madam Low.

NTUC Health, which runs three nursing homes, has started scheduled video calls for its residents with their family members.

Said Ms Chan Su Yee, chief executive of NTUC Health: "Both residents and their family members, who were initially anxious about not being able to visit, felt happier and more reassured after the video calls."

Said Madam Pungavanam, 79, a resident at Sree Narayana Mission for the last seven years: "I feel sad that my relatives, especially my sons, cannot visit me. I also feel sad that I cannot sit beside my friends and play games together.

"But I understand that this is because of the virus, and that is scary."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2020, with the headline 'Nursing homes get care staff to stay on site'. Subscribe