Coronavirus pandemic

Nursing home residents and kin relieved as visits resume

Extra safety measures in place include visits by appointment only and designated visiting areas

Ms Grace Ang, 39, visiting her father Ang Tiak Huat, 72, at NTUC Health Nursing Home (Geylang East). Clear acrylic partitions separating visitors from residents help to minimise the risk of droplets spreading. PHOTO: NTUC HEALTH
Ms Grace Ang, 39, visiting her father Ang Tiak Huat, 72, at NTUC Health Nursing Home (Geylang East). Clear acrylic partitions separating visitors from residents help to minimise the risk of droplets spreading. PHOTO: NTUC HEALTH

Retired lawyer Michael Shah, 63, has been counting the days since he last saw his 65-year-old wife, who has Alzheimer's disease and has been in Orange Valley Nursing Home in Clementi since 2007.

Before the ban on visits to homes caring for the elderly to minimise the risk of coronavirus infections, Mr Shah would visit her five times a week for several hours each time, to watch movies with her on an iPad and massage her arms and legs.

Video calls during this period have not been a viable option as his wife cannot speak, and has limited periods of awareness.

Since yesterday, visitors are allowed again, with restrictions based on guidelines from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), which oversee nursing homes and welfare homes, respectively.

Mr Shah has made an appointment to see her tomorrow at 11am, making it 81 days since they last met on April 1. "I just hope she still remembers me," he said.

Measures are in place to reduce the risk of transmission.

MOH on Wednesday released guidelines for nursing home visits, limiting them to half an hour, and each resident to one visitor a day.

Residents are allowed two designated visitors.

The ministry also encouraged nursing homes to schedule appointments for visits, and to take additional precautions such as a dedicated visitation area.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, an MSF spokesman said the same visitation rules are in place for welfare homes.

She added that there is a limit of up to 10 visitors within a home at any point in time, with visits to take place at designated areas outside of living quarters and away from other residents.

 
 
 

The resident and visitor have to maintain a 1m safe distance from each other, and homes may install plastic screens for added protection, said the spokesman.

Homes contacted by ST said they would be following the guidelines strictly, with some adding their own crowd control and safe distancing measures. These include declaring travel and health history, and using the SafeEntry check-in system.

A Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore) spokesman said visiting hours are split into two blocks, from 10am to noon, and 5pm to 8pm. It has designated visiting areas at each level that will be disinfected after each visit. Visitors are not allowed to enter the wards.

Madam Low Mui Lang, executive director of The Salvation Army's Peacehaven Nursing Home in Changi, said the home is allowing four hours of visits daily, with up to eight visitors per time slot.

"Additional manpower will be deployed over the next few days to direct the visitors and supervise the visits to ensure safety," she added.

 
 

Ms Janice Tan, NTUC Health's residential care head in charge of nursing homes, said each floor of its three nursing homes will allow only one visitor at a time.

Clear acrylic partitions will separate visitors from residents to minimise the risk of droplets spreading, said Ms Tan, adding that the homes have allocated a 30-minute interval between visits to allow for cleaning.

For 50-year-old Tan Joo Huat, it has been months since he has seen his brother.

The resident of Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home in Yishun has not had visitors since April 2.

Mr Tan has been looking forward to meeting his brother, whose last visit was in February.

 
 
 

"Although I was able to communicate with him through video calls when I needed to talk to him, meeting him physically will still be the best," said Mr Tan.

His brother will visit him on Monday.

Similarly, Ms Chua Bee Geok, 73, is eagerly awaiting visits from her younger brother and sister, who used to visit her monthly and sometimes during the holidays.

"On the phone, I can only hear their voice. While I know that the circuit breaker was introduced for our safety, I prefer seeing my siblings face to face, and I miss seeing them," said Ms Chua, a resident at the Singapore Cheshire Home in Serangoon Garden Way, which cares for the chronically ill or permanently disabled.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2020, with the headline 'Nursing home residents and kin relieved as visits resume'. Subscribe