SINGAPORE - Singapore's third assisted living facility for seniors opened on Saturday (March 14), allowing residents more independence in their daily lives while still being under the watchful eye of trained caregivers.
The facility - a renovated house - behind Sembawang Shopping Centre is the most modern in the St Bernadette Lifestyle Village group, which has two similar amenities - in Adam Road and Bukit Timah.
Its modern metal-and-glass construction makes the four-storey, 5,000sq ft building stand out among the other houses in Jalan Serengam, off Sembawang Road.
The St Bernadette centres are all run by Ms Belinda Wee, who is also the co-founder of the Good Shepherd Loft nursing home in Bukit Timah.
She said operating such assisted-living facilities in a retrofitted and repurposed house is a better move in land-scarce Singapore.
The minimum tenure is six months, with residents paying $4,000 to $5,000 a month for services that include laundry, utilities and one trained staff member to every eight seniors.
There are no subsidies for seniors who want to stay in such facilities.
The Sembawang facility can accommodate up to 10 residents in a mix of double and single rooms, all with bathrooms attached.
The idea of having such centres is to encourage seniors to lead more active and interactive lives, Ms Wee said.
She cited a 2015 study that showed that most seniors will have daily living activities and physical health that are only "moderately impaired", showing that there is room for facilities that let them lead their lives with greater autonomy compared with the intensive supervision offered by nursing homes.
However, the family still wants to know that the senior, though living alone, is "still cared for", added Ms Wee.
The Sembawang facility boasts modern touches like motion sensors and Amazon Alexa voice assistants linked to a laptop.
The sensors can build a picture of the occupant's activities and appropriate care can be brought in when needed if, for example, the senior spends a lot of time at home.
The Amazon Alexa has two-way communication capability, allowing a caregiver to speak directly with the room's occupant via telephone.
There is also a lift and a 10 metre by 4m swimming pool.
Ms Wee said the selection of seniors for the centres is important because a balance needs to be struck between their physical abilities and the level of care given.
Residents should be able to perform four out of six activities of daily living - including eating, bathing, grooming or walking - before they are given consideration to stay.
"Subsidies aside, we hope that the Ministry of Health and the Agency for Integrated Care will grant a foreign staff quota for operators to run assisted living facilities," Ms Wee said.
The opening of St Bernadette's Sembawang facility comes on the heels of the Government announcing a similar scheme that will see Singapore's first Housing Board (HDB) assisted-living flats being rolled out in Bukit Batok in May.
The new flats aim to provide people 65 and above with a housing option for independent living, with care available if needed.
Ms Alice Soh, 84, has been living in the St Bernadette's Adam Road facility for about a year after she experienced an intense pain in her head while having dinner one night.
"It was so painful that I couldn't speak or chew. I cried," she recalled.
She was in hospital when her brother registered her for the Adam Road centre.
Moving in wasn't a big change as she was already living alone in a small flat in Toh Tuck Road but having 24/7 help with her living needs was a great benefit, said Ms Soh, a former deputy director with the Regional Language Centre.
Ms Soh joked that with Sembawang Mall next door, it "would be nice" if she could move into the new facility.