Why It Matters

Seek balance in seniors' homes

Government targets are rarely not met, but that is likely to be the case for earlier plans to build 60 senior group homes by the year end.

The Straits Times reported last week that there are just 14 such homes to date. These are clusters of five to eight rental flats, each shared by two to three seniors. They allow those with little or no family support to live independently, in the community, instead of in institutions such as nursing homes.

Government plans can and have gone wrong in the past. While one may criticise the target for being overambitious - there were just two such homes in 2013 when it was set - it is more important for the authorities and the social service sector to learn from this experience.

Targets should still be set, and it is commendable that the Government set up these homes slowly and is now reviewing the initial target.

To insist on building 60 homes would meet the target but miss the point if most of them are empty. Already, the existing homes have many empty flats. As of March, less than a fifth of the places were filled.

The Government had done some homework before deciding in 2013 to set up more senior group homes. It observed similar facilities in Britain and the Netherlands, before piloting two homes here in 2012, and those were said to be doing well.

But while the concept of allowing seniors to live in the community instead of in institutions is good, putting two to three frail seniors - and strangers - in a small rental flat has to be done more strategically to make the group home model work.

To have less unexpected outcomes, it would be wise to be cautious and consult more industry players when expanding social service pilot schemes, especially those involving relationships and daily living. Seniors often do not want to die alone, without anyone knowing, but they may like to spend time alone at home, having the TV to themselves.

A balance must be struck between encouraging seniors to offer mutual support to one another and allowing them to live independently.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Seek balance in seniors' homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe