Veteran medical social workers honoured

Mr Peter Lee, 79, and Mrs Saro Palakrishnan, 76, yesterday received awards for their contributions at a Singapore General Hospital event to mark the 70th anniversary of medical social service.
Mr Peter Lee, 79, and Mrs Saro Palakrishnan, 76, yesterday received awards for their contributions at a Singapore General Hospital event to mark the 70th anniversary of medical social service.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Helping out people is more of a life mission than a job for medical social worker Peter Lee, who was honoured alongside a colleague for their remarkable devotion at a ceremony yesterday.

Mr Lee, 79, assisted many needy patients with tuberculosis, leprosy, mental illnesses and other ailments over the years and remains active in the field. While he is no longer involved in direct patient care, he serves as master medical social worker at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), and mentors younger medical social workers.

Mr Lee was one of two veteran medical social workers who received awards for their contributions during an event at SGH to mark the 70th anniversary of medical social service.

He recalled visiting squatters living in makeshift houses in the late 1960s when he started his career in social work at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

He said: "In those early years, there was a lot of poverty. Many patients could not afford even basic treatment. When they recovered and were discharged, many wanted to stay because they were getting proper food and were more comfortable in the hospital."

The other award winner was Mrs Saro Palakrishanan, 76.

Mrs Palakrishnan said one of her most challenging periods was during the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003: "It was a new and scary disease. We had to work together and counsel not only patients and their relatives but also our own nurses after some of our colleagues passed away from Sars."

She now serves as a community care consultant at the National Kidney Foundation.

At the event were Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong and about 200 medical social workers.

Mr Goh said: "Medical social workers provide the human touch to help Singaporeans who need hospital care but are not able to afford it.

"For many of you, this is not just a job. It is a calling, it is a passion."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2019, with the headline 'Veteran medical social workers honoured'. Print Edition | Subscribe