“Through regular visits, these volunteers would interact with the residents and their family members, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong wrote on his blog yesterday” (Volunteers To Bring Nursing Homes Back To Health, Miss Sara Grosse).
Voluntary welfare organisations (VWO) and non-government organisations (NGO), as well as their corresponding groups of volunteers, have proven over the years to be crucial pillars of support for the scores of nursing homes in Singapore. Therefore, in the light of the recent cases of reported abuses and mistreatment, it comes as little surprise that Health Minister Gan Kim Yong – as shared in the news article “Volunteers To Bring Nursing Homes Back To Health” (July 16, 2011) by Miss Sara Grosse – has chosen to focus on this group of selfless individuals for the providence of increased assistance. However, the reliance upon volunteers per se is not a panacea for the nursing home woes; the respective agencies should be cognisant of the need to boost and harmonise volunteer capacities, heighten family involvement whenever possible, and simultaneously increase channels for communication and engagement.
Volunteers can be important agents for companionship and the management of ad-hoc events for the elderly residents; unfortunately, this dependence might not be entirely sustainable, given varying levels of commitment and inconsistent schedules of the volunteers. This has the potential of leaving gaps within initiatives introduced, and may not be functional, reliable safeguards against potential staff lapses given the relatively short hours spent by the volunteers each week at the centres. Still, in the long run, nursing homes can partner community associations – such as neighbouring schools and other grassroots interest groups – to establish productive relationships. For instance, schools can provide a steady stream of students and teachers for volunteerism projects or community service, while the homes would gain from the multitude of activities and the influx of manpower to keep their occupants enthused.
Nonetheless, employment of volunteers cannot be the sole strategy to tackle the pre-existing challenges highlighted. Crucially, should backgrounds permit, families should be consistently engaged to not only keep staff members well in check, but also to actively provide much-needed emotional support for their elderly members residing there.
Departments of the associated ministries can also coordinate efforts to provide avenues for the gathering of valuable first-hand perspectives and feedback from the elderly residents. This can be facilitated through regular engagement sessions, and accordingly conducted by trained volunteers or appropriate administrators. Through this compilation of opinions the administration would be able to properly gauge on-the-ground sentiments, and effectively evaluate the quality of the services provided by the staff. Thereafter, policies or changes can be introduced more convincingly and adequately.
Complementary measures must be taken in tandem to balance expectations and responsibilities; otherwise, singularly creating new emphases without taking the holistic picture into consideration can produce negative ramifications for all instead.