Saturday, July 14, 2012

Singapore - More Singaporeans head to Johor nursing homes

More Singaporeans are spending their last days, or years, across the Causeway.

Some are unhappy, just waiting for death.

Some find it better there. Some are in arrears with their payments.

But they all find it cheaper.

And the operators of these homes in Johor Baru say they are getting more inquiries from Singaporeans.

This has been happening as Singapore ages and the cost of getting care goes up.

By 2030, the number of those aged 65 and above here is expected to triple to 900,000.

There are no official figures on the number of Singaporeans living in JB nursing homes.

But representatives from three nursing homes told The New Paper that the numbers have been increasing over the years. They say that Singaporeans now number about 10 per cent of their clientele, up from about 1 to 2 per cent in the past.

Last month, after Channel NewsAsia reported that more people were defaulting on payment to some eldercare facilities in Singapore, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said he hoped that those who put their elders in Malaysian homes understand the obligations of doing so.

While Singaporeans can use Medisave to pay for hospitalisation and day surgery treatment in 12 hospitals across the Causeway - after the Government relaxed rules in March 2010 - they cannot tap on subsidies to offset nursing home fees.

But even without the subsidies, the costs there are lower than those here, say some Singaporeans. Mr Frankie Ker, director of Spring Valley Homecare in JB, told The New Paper: "When I started in 2006, I would get less than 10 queries from Singaporeans every month. Last month, I received up to 30 queries from Singaporeans."

At least 11 of the 110 residents there hold pink Singapore ICs. About 40 staff, mainly Filipinos, look after them. Depending on the type of care needed, the home charges from $600 (basic starting fee) to almost $1,000 monthly.

At City Heart Care Centre in Taman Johor, about 10 per cent of the 135 residents come from Singapore.

Its boss, Mr Jeremy Yeo, 55, said: "For the first few years after we started (in 1993), there would be one or two Singaporeans checking in."

Taxing to look after

The first Singaporean, a woman nicknamed Baby, came in 1994. The 55-year-old is unable to speak and greets questions with a childish smile.

"Her mother has eight children and finds it taxing to care for her," Mr Yeo said. Baby's mother and siblings visit once a month. Citing hard times, they pay less than the $800 charged monthly and sometimes default on payment, said Mr Yeo.

Another resident, Madam Yee Yuet Choi, 90, has five children, but no caregiver. "I'm afraid that if I fall (at home), no one will know," she said. "Here, at least when I fall, there're many people around." While the circumstances of the Singaporeans in these nursing homes differ, their families share a common concern: Cost.

Mr Eric Tan, 47, for example, moved his wheelchair-bound father to JB Care Centre this April. Previously, his father lived in a Singapore nursing home, which charged $1,800 every month. Now, the tab is around $1,000 a month.

Said Mr Tan, a spray painter: "The Singapore home increases the fees every year. Getting care for my father was becoming very expensive and my siblings and I don't earn a lot."

He was also taken aback at the patchy hygiene and food quality at the Singapore home, he said. In contrast, the JB home is clean and airy, he said.

"Though I have to travel further to visit, my father seems happier. It's good we're paying less for a better environment for him."

Monthly fees at JB Care Centre start from RM 2,300 (S$920), said the owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Noly.

Interest in eldercare facilities is so strong that people are asking about the Econ Healthcare Group's Taman Perling nursing home months before its 2013 opening.

The group has 10 centres in Singapore and Malaysia. A spokesman said fees at the upcoming Econ Medicare Centre and Nursing Home are up to 30 per cent cheaper than its Singapore rates.

But Dr Chia Shi-Lu, GPC member for Health, said those in Singapore homes have an advantage.

"When they face financial difficulties and default on payment, it's easier to help if they are in Singapore homes."

Koh Hui Theng and Chai Hung Yin
The New Paper

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