President Halimah Yacob pays virtual visit to Singapore Christian Home

President Halimah Yacob chatting with residents and care staff in a virtual visit to the Singapore Christian Home through video-conferencing on May 14, 2020. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - Since Monday (May 11), Ms Tijam Stephanie May Gonzales has had to stay in a hotel as a precautionary step.

The 31-year-old Filipina works as a staff nurse at the Singapore Christian Home, a facility in Sembawang Crescent that caters to mostly long-term residents of varying ages from low-income families.

The Government had announced earlier this month that staff in residential care homes for the elderly, who interact with residents, will need to stay in on-site facilities or move to hotels until the circuit breaker measures are lifted.

All staff and residents have to be tested for Covid-19 as well.

Ms Stephanie said that besides providing transport, the home pays for her three daily meals.

She told President Halimah Yacob, who paid the home a virtual visit on Thursday, that she has been well taken care of.

Besides talking to the care staff, Madam Halimah also chatted with the residents to understand how they are coping amid the outbreak.

They told her that they have been keeping in touch with their families through regular phone and video calls.

Mr Shariel Sheikh Mahmod, 51, said although he was "a bit bored" because his family members could not visit him physically, he understood the situation and need for stringent measures.

The residents and staff spoke to Madam Halimah from several rooms set up for video-conferencing.

Speaking later to the media, which had observed the visit, Madam Halimah said the existing circuit breaker measures are necessary to protect the seniors.

"I also understand how our seniors feel. At that age, our seniors would really love to have their families around them to talk to," she said.

"I wanted to see how they are coping because the psychological part is also very important.

"It looks like they are doing well and in pretty high spirits."

She added that the care staff have put in tremendous effort for the residents, and sacrificed time with their own families by staying in alternative accommodation.

Affected staff at the Singapore Christian Home are either housed in hotels or on-site accommodation.

A small number are allowed to go back to their own homes, including a nurse who lives a five-minute walk away from the home.

Director of nursing Jane Long said all staff had been tested for Covid-19 on May 4, while residents were tested on May 12.

All tests have returned negative.

Although circuit breaker measures have restricted Madam Halimah's physical presence at such visits, it has not stopped her community engagement activities.

"Nothing can replace face-to-face engagement... this is, of course, the next best alternative," Madam Halimah said of the virtual visit to the Singapore Christian Home.

On Thursday, she called for more people to donate to the President's Challenge, so that it can continue to support social service agencies here.

"During this difficult time, we call on Singaporeans to continue to support our social service agencies... they face challenges getting support for their work (during the Covid-19 period)," she said.

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