Ren Ci's new home in a home

A new Ren Ci nursing home at Ang Mo Kio looks more like a HDB flat than a hospital. The eight-storey building is divided into households, each household has its own bedrooms, toilets, living room and kitchen.

HDB-style design replaces dorm-like settings to give residents independence and autonomy

Working in a large organisation of close to 800 staff, pharmacy technician Chin Shi Hui, 22, had never personally interacted with her big boss, Ms Loh Shu Ching, chief executive of Ren Ci Hospital, which runs a community hospital, two nursing homes and two care centres.

But on July 29, she found herself in the curious position of brushing her teeth side by side with Ms Loh before tucking herself into bed.

Together with two other colleagues, they were sharing a room and spending the night at Ren Ci's new Housing Board-style nursing home in Ang Mo Kio.

"I only knew that I was sharing a room with the CEO two days before the stay," said Ms Chin.

The first-of-its-kind nursing home will welcome its first residents in two days and Ms Loh had suggested a staff staycation first.

"I thought it's a good idea for staff to experience what it's like to live in a nursing home, as well as to stress test the new place to make sure things are working before residents move in," said Ms Loh , 50.

Currently, the over 200 residents in the old Ren Ci nursing home in Jalan Tan Tock Seng live in a hospital setting of 30 beds in a ward. They will move to the new place over this month and the next.

CREATING SPACES TO MINGLE

The majority of Singaporeans live in flats and we wanted to replicate the experience where they can come out to the living room to mix with others and feel at home. We remind them to use their beds only for sleeping.

DR LEE LIANG TEE, clinical director of Ren Ci Hospital, of the new home's model.

Such dorm-like settings are falling out of favour as people start to value their privacy and autonomy.

Most nursing homes in Singapore offer six- to eight-bedded rooms, but in countries such as Britain and the United States, single and double rooms are the norm.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it is trying out new designs for nursing homes, and is working with providers on models of care that give residents greater independence and autonomy.

A result of that is the MOH's pilot of the new Ren Ci home in Ang Mo Kio, purpose-built to look like HDB flats.

On each of its eight floors, there are three "households", each with four rooms containing four beds, three bathrooms and a shared activity and dining area.

The design was partly conceptualised by Dr Emi Kiyota, an environmental gerontologist based in the US who is known for her work in championing the idea ofIbasho, a Japanese term loosely translated as a place where a person feels at home and can be himself.

Residents are allocated their beds via a "HDB-style" ballot system which assigns queue numbers.

Those ahead choose their beds first, whether on a high or low floor or next to a window. They also get to choose a friend to room with.

Next, they get a say in the look of the home. Some opted for a Scandinavian minimalist style while others wanted a more traditional feel.

"This home aims to shift from the medicalised model of care towards a habilitative model, emphasising ageing with dignity, respect and self-reliance," said Ms Loh.


Ren Ci staff in the dining and activity area that residents in a ''household'' share. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

The bathrooms are positioned next to the bedrooms so that residents can go to the toilet themselves, whenever possible.

If they need help, there are about five care associates available on every floor. One or two nurses are present to oversee clinical matters.

The cost is roughly $960 to $1,200 a month, after government subsidies of up to 75 per cent, depending on household income.

Residents are usually from low- income backgrounds and need social support and nursing care.

Said Dr Lee Liang Tee, clinical director of Ren Ci Hospital: "The majority of Singaporeans live in flats and we wanted to replicate the experience where they can come out to the living room to mix with others and feel at home. We remind them to use their beds only for sleeping."

Dr Lee was also one of the 50 staff who volunteered for the staycation.

When they checked in, they had to complete tasks, such as decorating, wiping the windows or making the beds. Dinner was from the home's menu.

Senior manager Ramona Ng, 41, said: "I got to understand how the residents feel when they have to cede control to health institutions.

"That gives us greater motivation to help make things feel familiar, by making sure we replicate their previous schedules and lifestyles and encouraging them to bring personal mementoes to the nursing home."


Ren Ci staff in the dining and activity area that residents in a ''household'' share. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Meanwhile, Ms Loh, in her blue Pokemon Go T-shirt and grey shorts, was also trying her best to overcome her "strong apprehension" of having to sleep with people who may have different habits.

"It's so weird that I am facing you directly," Ms Loh told Madam Sim Teck Meh, 66, group director of nursing, before closing the curtain around her bed slightly.

Next to them, Ms Ng and Ms Chin tried out the remote-controlled pressure-relieving bed, which can be lowered or raised.

Said Ms Chin the next morning: "It was strange to be waking up and seeing the CEO pat on moisturiser, but I think the time together brought all of us closer."

•Ren Ci @ Ang Mo Kio is having an open house for the public to visit on Aug 12, from 9am to 1pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Ren Ci's new home in a home'. Print Edition | Subscribe