Saturday, June 11, 2011


This video caused a furore in Singapore when it was first screened on Channel 8 news Thursday night. After conducting an investigation of the nursing home in question, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has issued an order for the home to stop admitting new residents.

Outraged citizens have expressed shock and disgust at the abusive treatment meted out to the 75-year old woman in the video. According to the news report, the woman was made to sit naked for 30 minutes under the full blast of a ceiling fan, and then flung onto her bed. When she groaned, one of the caregivers slapped her on the mouth.

Since the news broke, people with elderly parents at the home have come forward to relate similar incidents. Obviously this is not an isolated case.

Close-circuit cameras at a nursing home to monitor the staff and ensure all's well. (Source: Straits Times 11 June)
Elderly folks can be cranky, obstinate and verbally abusive. It takes a lot of patience to look after them, more so if they are mentally or physically unable to take care of themselves. You have to feed them, bathe them, change their diapers, accompany them to the toilet, give them their medicine and make sure they do not hurt themselves. Not everyone has what it takes to be a caregiver. When caregivers are overworked, the stress can translate into mistreatment of the very people they are supposed to look after.

This is not meant to defend errant caregivers, but rather, to place the onus on nursing home operators to ensure better supervision of their staff. For one, they should adopt MOH's guidelines on staff-resident ratio to ensure that the staff are not overworked and taking it out on the residents. This ratio varies depending on the category of residents:

Category One: physically and mentally independent residents who require less attention. Ratio of staff to residents is 1:30.

Category Two: semi-mobile residents who require some assistance with daily activities. Ratio is 1:8.

Category Three: wheelchair bound or bedridden residents who may have mental sickness. Ratio is 1:4.

Category Four: fully dependent residents who have mental or behavourial problems and are unable to cope with daily living on their own. Ratio is 1:2.

Lunch time at one of the better managed nursing homes I have visited.
I have visited enough nursing homes in the past weeks to know that many of the staff are overworked and underpaid. At one home for the aged in Petaling Jaya, I saw how one of the caregivers was feeding an elderly woman. The latter was still chewing the food when the next spoonful was shoved into her mouth. It's a wonder she didn't throw up. That particular caregiver was in a hurry as she had several other residents to feed. At another home, wheelchair-bound residents were left in front of the TV set where they would sit and stare blankly at the screen for hours. There was no programme of activities to occupy them.

One of the many privately-run homes in Petaling Jaya.
So before you register your loved one in a nursing home, do all the necessary checks. You can't rely solely on the information contained in promotional brochures or websites. Or even what the staff tells you. Drop in unannounced for a surprise visit, say, during meal time. You will have a better picture of how the residents there are treated and how well the place is managed. Be prepared for some depressing sights.


Anonymous said...

I have read an article that almost all the care centers for the elderly in Malaysia are way below par.
So, what solution is there?

seniorsaloud said...

I have come across a few caregivers who are truly dedicated to their vocation. But as you have rightly pointed out, these are rare. You have to be passionate about caregiving. Most of the staff I've seen are there because it's just a job. Once they can find something better, they leave. Quite a number are foreigners.

It's good that we share what we know as many of us have elderly parents who might need more professional nursing care than what we can provide for them. The charges for a good nursing home or a retirement home can burn a hole in our pocket.

Maria said...

Dear Ms El-ef,

My name is Maria Ronald and I am a producer in Singapore. I am currently working on a story about the eldercare sector in Singapore. I am examining the challenges of working in eldercare and what can be done to help/make more efficient the people who do. I came across one of your articles about the conditions in a particular nursing home in Kuala Lampur's Petaling Jaya area. I was wondering if you could give me some insight into the conditions of nursing homes in Johor Bahru? I am trying to find out if JB is a viable option when Singapore's own nursing homes become unable to house elderly residents with the growing ageing population. Please do drop me an email at or call me on +65 9106 1517 with your perspective - I'd really appreciate it. Thanks much for taking the time. Sincerely, Maria

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