Total Defence Day: SAF senior medic spent time after shift counselling migrant worker

ME3 N. Savitri, 58, during her deployment at the Singapore Expo from April to July 2020. PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - Military Expert 3 (ME3) N. Savitri, a senior medic deployed to the Singapore Expo community care facility last year, recalled a Tamil-speaking Indian migrant worker asking her if he had Covid-19.

"I was shocked, and I said 'there is a reason why you're here, because everyone here is a positive patient'," said ME3 Savitri, who was at the facility from April 21 to July 8 last year.

She reassured the worker that patients at the facility were recovering and would return to work.

The 58-year-old senior medical trainer from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Medical Training Institute, who has been in the SAF for 38 years, was reflecting on her experience of her deployment at the Expo.

Among her key takeaways was the importance of having genuine care and concern for patients, as well as the need to communicate well with them.

At the Expo, she was responsible for advising medical staff to ensure that the right protocols were adhered to, such as for swabs or blood tests. She also made sure two halls at the Expo that housed more than 900 patients were disinfected regularly and properly.

ME3 Savitri also helped to counsel another Indian worker, in his early 20s, who had just arrived in Singapore about a month before being diagnosed with Covid-19.

He was facing many difficulties which, at that time, included the fact that he could not pay back a debt to those who had helped him find a job in Singapore.

ME3 Savitri spent time talking to him even after her shift had ended.

On the Expo experience, she said: "This was a very good opportunity for me to serve our migrant workers, take care of and show concern for them - to show appreciation for what they have built for us."

Another SAF regular deployed for the national Covid-19 effort last year was Major (Dr) Syed Harun Alhabsyi, a military psychiatrist, who was in charge of ensuring the mental well-being of migrant workers.

The 35-year-old also coordinated the Ramadan campaign effort to provide pre-dawn and break-fast meals during his three months with the inter-agency task force, set up in April last year to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak in the dormitories housing migrant workers.

Asked about what was done to improve the mental well-being of the workers, Maj (Dr) Harun said it was important to ensure that all their basic needs were taken care of, and to have counsellors on hand to support them. The task force tapped the networks of non-government organisations such as HealthServe, so that those who might need help could be identified early.

One personal encounter stands out for Maj (Dr) Harun who, in his previous role as head of Healthcare Cluster North under the Military Medicine Institute, had to approve compassionate leave for a national serviceman medic who had just lost a younger brother to cancer.

Major (Dr) Syed Harun Alhabsyi, 35, commanding officer of the SAF Medical Response Force, who was deployed to help the inter-agency taskforce managing Covid-19 operations at migrant worker dorms last year. PHOTO: MINDEF

The senior officer later asked to meet the medic while on his rounds to medical centres.

"His family was still grieving, but even though he was offered additional time off, he turned it down and said that he really wanted to contribute to this Covid-19 effort," said Maj (Dr) Harun.

Maj (Dr) Harun said he was proud to be able to contribute to the inter-agency task force.

He said: "This was what we signed up for, this is what we do - being able to contribute to defending what is precious to us."

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