Living apart, nursing home staff miss their families

Comfort in hard times: (Clockwise from top left) Prema in the multi-purpose hall of the Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home, Kelly Liew at the YWCA Fort Canning, Noresah Zakirah at the Orchard Rendezvous Hotel and Siti at the Oakwood Premier Singapore hotel. — The Straits Times/ANN

NURSING home staff are being housed on-site and in hotels to reduce community exposure.

When Siti Nadia checked into her Oakwood Premier hotel room in Shenton Way last week, it was like a mini “staycation”.

The 28-year-old had a king-size bed to herself and could relax to her favourite pop songs from the bedside speakers every night.

She was also able to watch Netflix shows or flip through movie channels on a smart television while sitting in the lounge chair.

She recalled the welcome note on the side table that greeted her when she first entered her room.

It read: “Thank you for being a front-liner and holding the fort during this challenging period.”

Siti is one of thousands of nursing home staff who are being housed in hotels or on-site at the nursing homes where they work, in order to reduce community exposure during the circuit breaker period.

Such arrangements ensure that staff who interact with elderly residents have a protected living environment to minimise their chances of contracting the virus and taking it into the nursing homes.

Singapore has about 9,000 staff working in 80 nursing homes.

At least six nursing homes were hit by the virus, including Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson Lane, where 16 residents and staff were infected and three died.

Acacia Home in Admiralty, a welfare home for the destitute, has also been affected.

The authorities are providing funds for accommodation, meals, dedicated transport and daily necessities for the staff who have had to move into hotels.

The Health Ministry is providing support for nursing homes to increase on-site accommodation capacity as needed.

Affected employees are getting a S$500 (RM1,523) allowance to help them with the transition.

“I miss my family, but this helps me to be more independent. More importantly, this is to protect our residents and families, ” said Siti.

Siti said she is looking forward to going back home after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1.

For Kelly Liew, 33, nurse clinician at NTUC Health Nursing Home in Geylang East, home has been a spacious room in YWCA Fort Canning in Dhoby Ghaut since May 10.

After work, she gets to the hotel by booking a Grab car using her company’s corporate account.

When she is hungry, she either orders her meal directly from the hotel or uses a food delivery app, as she has been provided with a S$20 (RM61) daily meal allowance. If she is working at the nursing home, a buffet is provided.

As she has a room to herself, she usually spends her free time reading books or doing exercises by watching fitness coaches online.

“I definitely miss being around my family... But I get to rest better after work and can continue to give my best to the residents every day, ” said Liew, who has a husband and two young daughters.

Being away from her two sons during the Ramadan fasting period has been particularly tough for single mother Noresah Zakirah, 53.

She is a kitchen helper at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled and has been staying with a colleague in a twin bedroom in the Orchard Rendezvous Hotel since May 8.

“My sons are grown-up, but I will call and wake them up early in the morning to eat before fasting, and when I video-call them at night, they say they miss me, ” said Noresah, whose sons are aged 26 and 28. “I cannot mix with other colleagues in their rooms as everything needs access cards here, so it can be boring. But our health and safety are important, ” she added.

At Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home in Yishun, all 103 staff have been staying on the premises since the start of this month.

The hardest part of living on the nursing home’s premises for Prema Manikandan, 40 is having to face a crying daughter whenever she makes a video call home.

Her 11-year-old daughter is counting the days when her mother can finally return home.

“I am still learning to adjust to life here, but being able to continue to see the smiling faces of my residents, who are like my mother and father, makes my heart happy, ” she said. — The Straits Times/ANN

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