Updated: Courtesy of Saturday’s Straits Times

It’s true what they say – you really do start noticing things more when you have an interest in them. So yesterday (Saturday!) was devoted to both PW PI vetting and marking of GP Assignment question on whether Singapore is a good place for the elderly.

And students, it isn’t enough to simply describe the eldercare initiatives rolled out by the government. Will elaborate more in tutorials 🙂 Meanwhile, additional readings:

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More help for lone seniors under new eldercare system

Island to be divided into zones, with each overseen by an anchor operato

rBy Janice Tai

By the end of the year, seniors who live alone and need help will be more likely to receive it, with a more coordinated system helmed by key eldercare providers.

This is crucial because the number of seniors living alone is expected to grow from 35,000 in 2012, to 83,000 by 2030.

Under the new system, the island will be divided into zones. Community eldercare in each zone will be overseen by an anchor operator appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Each zone will contain up to five senior activity centres, which used to mainly run social and recreational activities for seniors, and three senior group homes, where elderly residents with little or no family support live together.

Existing facilities run by other eldercare providers can continue to operate, supported by the anchor operators. But new centres and group homes in each zone can be set up only by its anchor operator, said eldercare providers.

In each zone, a main centre, with about five case managers who have social work experience, will support the others. The case managers will counsel vulnerable elderly and visit them at home.

Since 2012, the MSF has set up 10 such clusters from the existing 58 senior activity centres. Its target is to have 16 clusters by 2016 to support about 39,000 seniors.

This comes as more centres and group homes are being built. The number of group homes will rise from two now to 60 by 2016.

The Straits Times understands that at least three major eldercare providers are in talks with the MSF to form the first batch of anchor operators and roll out this system later this year.

Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities is likely to take care of Ang Mo Kio and Bukit Merah/Outram. Lions Befrienders will probably lead Queenstown/Clementi, while Touch Community Services will head the central region.

Industry players say this is a landmark move as it changes the model of help from one that requires the elderly to take the initiative if they need help, to one that brings aid to their doorstep.

“Some elderly people may not be able to come to us even though they need help.

“So, if every block is covered within a zone where home visits are done, the likelihood of vulnerable elderly being overlooked is slim,” said Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities divisional director Joseph Cheong.

The centres did not do home visits in the past as they lacked expertise and manpower.

Under the new system, retirees and housewives will be roped in to do so a few times a week, for $5 per visit. They will refer seniors who need help to case managers.

The MSF said it is finalising the implementation details and will provide more information later.

The anchor operator concept has been tested in the pre-school sector. The five pre-school anchor operators get government grants to ramp up the number of childcare centre places, keep fees low and provide quality services.

However, their centres are not limited to specific regions.

Taking charge of certain zones will help eldercare providers better monitor frail or homebound elderly, and help them access the myriad of services in those zones, industry players said.

Senior activity centres and senior group homes in one area would have stronger synergy from being run by the same eldercare provider, Lions Befrienders executive director Goh Boo Han said.

For instance, a group home may house a centre in its void deck. “The seniors living in the home can come down to the centre for activities and its staff can look out for them,” Mr Goh said.

The centres used to reach out only to rental flat residents, but with the extra hands on deck, some, such as Touch Seniors Activity Centre, now cater to others.

Its director, Ms Julia Lee, said: “If we want to enable our seniors to continue growing old in the community, then there needs to be enough support services for them at the estate level.”

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More help but life still hard for old, poor

Concerns over the old and the down and out in rapidly ageing Singapore are weighing on the minds of many here.

The elderly and the poor were two of the top three concerns among Singaporeans in a recent survey of key issues three years after the last general election.

Respondents were asked to choose from a list of seven hot-button subjects including housing, health care, the elderly, the poor, transport, education and foreign workers.

Interestingly, neither the old nor the poor grabbed centrestage in the run-up to the last GE. This could be because greying is an inevitable, slow and silent process and the poor are usually out of sight in a city often touted as among the richest in the world.

Besides, neither issue is as emotive as housing or foreign workers or as visible as overcrowding in public transport – all of which led to many verbal jousts between the ruling party and the opposition in 2011.

So how did two largely voiceless demographic groups suddenly seize the collective consciousness of the nation?

One factor may be an awareness campaign on poverty late last year. The Singaporeans Against Poverty campaign highlighted how more than 105,000 families here earned an average of just $1,500 a month.

Ironically, the old and the poor may also have begun dominating public discourse due to a plethora of high-profile government announcements since 2011, tweaking health-care, jobs and social policies to help prepare for a rapidly ageing Singapore.

Spending on health care, for instance, has almost doubled in just three short years – from $4 billion in FY2011 to $7.5 billion in FY2014. This does not take into account the $8 billion put aside for the pioneer generation.

Central Provident Fund contribution rates for older workers have been raised twice in two years. Companies that hire them have been given wage subsidies. Workfare, a scheme which tops up the wages of older and low-income workers has been expanded. And payouts from ComCare, the Government’s main fund to help the needy, topped $100 million for the first time in the 2012-2013 financial year, more than double the $44.5 million given out just five years earlier. A total of 33,266 individuals and families were helped overall in FY2012, up from 19,072 just five years earlier.

Given this spate of measures, it is no surprise, that around seven in 10 Singaporeans polled by ST expressed satisfaction at the way the Government had handled issues related to ageing and the poor since the last GE.

Yet, perception has not fully mirrored reality. Worries remain on how well Singapore will ride the impending “silver tsunami”.

Whether health-care infrastructure will be able to keep pace with rapid ageing is a key concern.

For instance, there are already an estimated 210,000 Singaporeans caring for the elderly, the sick and the disabled at home. Yet, homecare providers can now serve only 5,400 seniors needing home-based health care and 1,100 seniors needing home-based personal care.

There are around 2,500 places at day-care centres for the elderly and 10,600 nursing home beds islandwide. Still, these numbers seem low, given that Singapore is one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world. There are already nearly 250,000 people here aged 70 and above, a 55 per cent jump from a decade ago.

Costs are another concern. Despite increased subsidies, families living in five-room HDB flats, for instance, may not qualify for enough health-care subsidies and forgo services altogether. Full costs for respite care and home medical services, for instance, can be as high as $370 per day and $200 per visit respectively.

Meanwhile, even as social safety nets are strengthened, life remains hard for the poor.

Despite the tight labour market, for instance, the ranks of low-wage workers are on the rise. In 2012, the number of local workers who earned less than $1,000 a month despite working full-time went up by 4,000 to 114,000 from a year earlier.

And despite higher spending, ComCare payments still reach fewer than a fifth of families on the bottom two rungs of the income scale.

But with so many policies announced to better manage demographic drifts, there is hope that in its 50th year of independence, Singapore will share more fruits of its stellar economic success with those who once helped build a new nation, but are now too old or infirm to help themselves.

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