The teacher was both exasperated and embarrassed. She was leading her troop of primary school tiny tots to visit single room flats, an exercise in altruism intended to inculcate empathy for the less fortunate. But the little brat refused to step through the doorway, saying the room smells funny. Fortunately the septuagenarian occupant was hard of hearing, and was spared the hurtful remark.
But the kid was still a kid, with all his needs attended to by his doting parents. At the other end of the age spectrum, the senior citizen was supposed to be taken care of by the younger generation, her own children if she had any. Even a brief social visit was welcome palliative for her lonely existence.
Most of the nursing homes in Singapore are staffed by foreign workers, with filipinas in dominance because of their literacy in English. These are also relatively younger than their elderly charges. While they go about their assigned duties professionally, distributing medication or disposing of soiled adult pampers, not all of them have the empathy to dispense. The video footage of an old woman being abused by the staff of Nightingale Nursing Home at Braddell Road may have shocked some Singaporeans, but the harsh reality is that it is probably a more common occurrence than anyone would care to admit. The young foreign nurses have their own set of growing up pains, be it boyfriend problems or just scrounging enough money to send home. The ideal caregiver would be a Singaporean nurse in her retirement years. She has the skills and the mindset to care for someone who could be a contemporary of her own mother, or grandmother. Apparently these are not in short supply, but they have a niche market in being highly paid private nurses, caring for the well-off in their luxurious private residences.
Speaking at the conference organised by the Centre of Enable Living (CEL), Chan Chun Sing said "We know in the Asian context and culturally, we frown upon moving into institutional care. We think that it is against our values of filial piety to put your parents in the institutional home." Hence the government initiatives to build "Senior Service Centres" where the elderly are supposed to provide emotional support for their own kind, presumably for those who can feed, wash and clean up after themselves. The old looking after the old. It makes sense. Then he suggests something more in character with his unfathomable logic: use the new media and create one-minute YouTube videos on care giving to improve home care for the elderly. Honestly, I don't know what to say.