Coronavirus Singapore

How Jurong West nursing home prevented emergence of a cluster

It put in place swift measures, with some staff doing 12-hour shifts

When nurse manager Teo Ai Lian learnt that a resident had contracted Covid-19 on Sept 1 in the Jurong West nursing home she works in, she felt sad.

"Everyone was worried because our residents are elderly and vulnerable. There was also disappointment that despite the many measures we put in, Covid-19 still crept into our nursing home," she said.

But the news also injected urgency to ring-fence cases and avoid a cluster on the premises.

Over the next few weeks, Ms Teo, 39, and her team at NTUC Health (Jurong West) Nursing Home tested all the residents. They tended to anxious seniors in divided zones while keeping concerned relatives updated after visits were suspended.

The home currently has about 180 staff and 250 residents.

The employees also tried their best to boost residents' spirits with simple gestures.

"We gave out sugar-free mooncakes, set up a vanity corner so residents could dress up or put on some nail polish, and volunteers brought radios for the residents to listen to music. Moving freely within their zones helped the residents feel occupied," said Ms Teo.

On Sept 5, four days after Mr Kwai, 92, was detected as the first Covid-19 case, another resident, Mr Tan, 86, who was from the same ward, tested positive. Both have been identified by their last names to protect their identities.

Mr Tan was isolated and swab tests were stepped up, with daily antigen rapid tests (ARTs) conducted for the residents.

Behind the scenes, the staff relied on one another and their families for support.

Ms Teo said: "Most of the staff had to put in extra hours and some of the staff took on 12-hour shifts. As nurses, we are very mindful of practising safe distancing and monitoring our own health.

"It's a challenging situation for everyone, particularly foreign nurses who have not seen their loved ones for a long time."

Ms Teo, a mother of four boys aged five to 13, said her husband helped to supervise home-based learning for the children while she was working. She had to work through the weekend at times too.

She added that her family members were mindful not to be out too often and risk being infected.

After nearly a month of heightened precautions, the nursing home reported no new cases.

Mr Tan was discharged from hospital on Sept 22 and welcomed back at the facility.

Ms Teo said: "We had a celebration with our residents at the end of our surveillance period and when Mr Tan returned to the nursing home.

"Mr Tan's son called us and said even though he could not visit his father, he was thankful for our constant updates and glad his father was in our care. That was a heart-warming moment for us."

Mr Kwai was discharged from hospital on Oct 8.

Staff and residents are relieved they were able to prevent the emergence of a Covid-19 cluster - three or more linked cases are considered a cluster in Singapore.

But the daily number of cases in the community is a grim reminder that the risk of further transmission persists in nursing homes.

Cases are still being reported at homes. On Oct 12, the Ministry of Health reported a total of 99 cases at United Medicare Centre in Toa Payoh. This comprised 85 residents, 13 staff and a household member of a case.

In addition to safety precautions, staff at the five nursing homes under NTUC Health have been encouraging residents and their relatives to opt for the two doses of the vaccine or the booster shot.

Dr Goh Siew Hor, head of clinical services at NTUC Health, said it would be prudent for nursing homes to continue practising the infection control measures to keep the virus at bay, even as Singapore heads towards a Covid-19 endemic road map.

He said: "While we try our best to prevent our cases from coming into the nursing homes, we know that it could happen. We hope that the preparations that we have made will help us to identify cases early, contain them and minimise the impact on the residents."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline 'How Jurong West nursing home prevented emergence of a cluster'. Subscribe