Old man left in van for long hours as caregiver can't afford nursing home fees

NEARLY every day, Mr Lee Guan spends around six hours cooped up in the back of a van in a corner of a Jurong East carpark.

The 61-year-old, who has a low IQ and struggles to communicate, sits tearing up newspapers and throwing the pieces into a bucket beside him.

At times he gets into a foul mood and shouts, while banging against the doors in frustration, much to the alarm of passers-by.

Some people have made complaints about the noise and the smell of urine coming from the vehicle, while others have voiced their concerns about his welfare.

IT worker Stephen Ng, 56, who wrote in to citizen journalism website Stomp, said: "I hope that by sending the photos to Stomp, some action will be taken."

Mr Lee's van is owned by his brother-in-law, Mr Mah Ah Wah, 67, who sells noodles at the nearby wet market.

Mr Mah, who is Singaporean, says he has no better way of looking after his relative - he cannot send him to a daycare centre because Mr Lee is a Malaysian and does not qualify for subsidies. Mr Lee was once offered a place in a centre which charged $700 a month, far too costly for Mr Mah, who earns $1,000 a month.

Mr Mah tried leaving Mr Lee alone in his Boon Lay flat or having him sit at his stall, but the first option was struck out for fear of his safety, and the second proved disruptive.

"In the van, he can sleep whenever he likes. Over here (at the stall), he couldn't sleep and started making noise."

The van is also less than a five-minute walk from Mr Mah's stall, making it easier for him to monitor Mr Lee.

"Sometimes people will tell me he is being noisy and I will go over and tell him 'quiet or else the police will come'." Mr Mah also leaves a note with his mobile phone number on the windscreen.

Mr Mah began taking responsibility for Mr Lee some 10 years ago, when the latter moved in with his elder sister - Mr Mah's wife - after his parents and siblings, who were caring for him, died. Mr Lee also has a younger sister who lives in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Mah drives Mr Lee to the carpark at 5am when he opens his stall and back home at 11am after he closes the stall. He also cares for his 64-year-old wife, who uses a wheelchair and attends a daycare centre where she pays a subsidised rate.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said staff from its Social Service Office in Jurong East have visited Mr Lee with social workers from Lakeside Family Service Centre. "MSF will be working with help agencies to render the necessary assistance to the elderly man," he said.

Senior assistant director Rachel Lee at Fei Yue Family Service Centre said options for families in such situations include turning to a nursing home in Johor Baru, which would be more affordable as Mr Lee is a Malaysian citizen, or seeking monetary handouts from charitable foundations or associations. The second option would require a referral by a social worker.

"It is quite true that if you are a foreigner, a lot of the subsidy schemes do not apply to you. As a result, such services become very expensive," said Ms Lee.

Stallholder Chong Tian Ser, 55, who sells fruit at the stall next to Mr Mah's, said it has been hard on him, and that he should be admired for shouldering this burden. "I hope they will be able to get some help from a charitable organisation so that his path will be made easier," said Mr Chong.

But even now, an impending problem is already threatening to make things more difficult. The certificate of entitlement for Mr Mah's van expires in August next year. "I will think about it next year," he said. "If I keep worrying about everything, my hair will all turn white."



Additional reporting by Pearl Lee

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.