TTSH healthcare workers refused by cab drivers, turned away by some hotels

A nurse told The Straits Times that she has been staying in a hotel since May 12 as part of TTSH's accommodation arrangements for its staff.
A nurse told The Straits Times that she has been staying in a hotel since May 12 as part of TTSH's accommodation arrangements for its staff.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - On May 5, a few days after the emergence of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) Covid-19 cluster, Mr Nigel Rankine tried to book a hotel stay but was told he could not be accommodated.

The 27-year-old staff nurse works at TTSH. He decided to move out of his place provisionally to avoid exposing his elderly parents to the risk of contracting the coronavirus. Both his parents are immunocompromised: his mother is a cancer patient and his father is recovering from heart bypass surgery.

He had applied a few times for alternative accommodation with TTSH, but knew it would take some time to get a spot.

The hospital said it has been working with hotels and accommodation providers to give lodging to its impacted staff .

Mr Rankine eventually found a hotel on his own but was told that bookings were not available.

But a friend who called the hotel was told otherwise. When Mr Rankine pressed for answers, the hotel said they only accepted staycation bookings.

Mr Rankine had earlier told the hotel, which he declined to name, that he worked at TTSH. He inferred from their response that this was why they had rejected him.

"The response I got was a little off-putting. If they had been truthful and honest from the start, it would have been less damaging," said Mr Rankine.

After failing to book a hotel room on his own, he reached out to TTSH once again and was finally able to get a hotel booking on that day. "I'm thankful for the speed and how TTSH has helped give my family and me peace of mind," he said.

Mr Rankine said he thought it fair that the hotel he first engaged with wanted to protect its staff and guests, just as he was protecting his family, but did not appreciate their lack of honesty.

"I don't expect people to treat us differently or put us on a pedestal just because we are healthcare workers. But they should at least speak to us like we're human and not some kind of parasite," he said.

Reports of other TTSH healthcare workers being shunned by the public or having to move out of their homes have surfaced.

The hospital cluster currently has 46 Covid-19 cases linked to it as of May 16, with around 1,000 staff placed on quarantine.

Another nurse, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Straits Times that she has been staying in a hotel since May 12 as part of TTSH's accommodation arrangements for its staff .

"I wanted to segregate myself from other people and minimise contact with my landlord, who is elderly" said the 26-year-old.


The hospital said it has been working with hotels and accommodation providers to give lodging to its impacted staff. PHOTO: TTSH

She added that her neighbours avoid her when they see her coming from afar.

A day after the cluster was announced, she tried to flag down a cab to get to the hospital. She said of the driver:

"He asked me a lot of questions, like why I was heading there, when did I get my vaccination, and what was my swab test result. I answered all of his questions but he still rejected me in the end," she said.

This happened with another taxi driver too and after that, she made it a point to stick to public transport and to refrain from wearing the TTSH uniform when commuting.

Likewise, Dr Keefe Tan, a registrar at the hospital, said that his Grab driver had cancelled his ride, seconds after finding out that he had booked one to TTSH.

"It's been difficult to get a ride despite the map showing that there are many cars around the area," said the 32-year-old.

Asked if he had been using GrabCare, a dedicated service which aims to ferry healthcare workers to and from hospitals, Dr Tan said that it was still difficult to get a ride through the service but the situation was better compared to last year.

A spokesman from Grab said the company has conducted another recruitment drive to onboard more volunteer driver-partners to further support Singapore's healthcare workers.

It currently has more than 12,000 driver-partners who have volunteered for its GrabCare fleet.

While Dr Tan said he understands why people might be fearful of TTSH healthcare workers, he couldn't help feeling a little "sad and disappointed".

"My colleagues and I are more than willing to put ourselves at the same risk everyday for them and it would be nice to know that others are standing together with us. In times like this, I just wish more people would step up instead of turn the other way," he said.