Hougang day care centre opens makeshift store to engage seniors bored from staying at home amid Covid-19 surge

SINGAPORE – A makeshift store sits in a corner of the NTUC Health Day Centre for Seniors (Ci Yuan) at Hougang Avenue 9, for seniors who miss the shopping experience.

They had set it up in April, after learning that some of the 60 seniors who visit the centre were bored from staying safe at home amid the surge in Covid-19 cases.

Centre supervisor New Lay Yeow, 52, said: “The seniors may miss going out to buy things for their family during this period, so we came up with the idea of setting up a booth in the centre for them.”

But first, mask on, they take part in activities such as colouring and stretch band exercises to keep them occupied. Each activity is worth one point.

“To encourage our seniors to continue with centre activities and stay engaged during Covid-19, we also award them points when they come to the centre,” said centre manager Yang Zou Fang, 41.

They hope to run the store once every month, from its current once every three months schedule.

Seniors can redeem items such as toilet rolls, biscuits, canned food, handicrafts made by the seniors, umbrellas and thermal bottles for between 20 and 1,000 points.

Mr Philip Lingesvaran Alagan, who has been with the centre since 2017, is currently unvaccinated.

His doctor had advised him against the vaccination due to his diabetes and high blood pressure. He also suffered a stroke in 2006.

The 59-year-old, who is currently unemployed, turns up at the centre every week day to participate in the activities including the stretch band exercises and weight lifting with water bottles.

He currently has 400 point and is saving up for the thermal bottle, which can be redeemed for 1,000 points.

“It’s very good and everyone at the centre can join in and talk about how they are going to spend their points,” he said.

NTUC Health Senior Day Care Staff Yang Zou Fang (left) and New Lay Yeow at the NTUC Health Day Centre for Seniors. PHOTO: NTUC HEALTH

Almost all of the seniors are fully vaccinated. For the others, the care staff have been educating, responding to queries and seeking consent from them and their caregivers to facilitate the vaccination and booster shots.

It is about striking a balance, the centre said – keeping the seniors safe and updated with Covid-19 news and measures while ensuring they remain active.

Ms Yang said: “We tell them to not go out so often after they leave the centre because some of them like to go to the coffeeshop to be with friends.”

Mr Philip said the daily news-sharing sessions and reminders by staff at the centre have helped.

“I have learnt to keep my mask on when I go out, practice good hygiene and also try not to go out unless necessary,” he added.

About one in four residents in Hougang are those aged 60 and older, government data shows.

The estate has had a number of scares. Hougang Avenue 8 was a Covid-19 cluster twice this year – at Block 506, with 13 residents, and at the Giant supermarket in Block 683 when several employees tested positive.

A new Covid-19 cluster has emerged in the nearby Institute of Mental Health (IMH), with 116 cases as at Oct 25.

It is why Dr Tan Heng Kwang, who has been running the Neighbourhood Medical Clinic in Hougang Avenue 8 for 33 years, is staying alert.

The 66-year-old said about 20 per cent of his patients who are seniors are unvaccinated. So he makes it his daily routine to educate them, by using childhood immunisation as an example.

“You have kids or grandchildren right? When they go for the measles vaccine, they will also get fever, be unwell for a few days and develop rashes,” he said.

It is also important to educate their children as some think the seniors do not need to be vaccinated because they are homebound, added Dr Tan.

Community groups like the Man Fut Tong Welfare Society have also joined in the efforts to keep seniors safe and engaged.

The society’s vice-president – Madam Carolynne Ng, 49 – said the organisation has been giving groceries and food to residents since 2018.

They are currently helping about 500 families in Hougang. About 80 per cent of the residents they assist are seniors.

In June, when the Government announced that not enough seniors were getting vaccinated, she adjusted the programme.

“We asked them to show us their vaccination status to receive their meals.

“If they are not vaccinated, we will not reject them, but will remind them to be vaccinated by next week. We tell them we can help them make an appointment as well,” said Madam Ng.

Her son, Joshua Tan, and a group of 10 young volunteers, also came up with a membership card system in early May to prevent overcrowding during the collection, track the residents’ vaccination statuses and ensure their safety.

Those who are fully vaccinated would be issued a sticker, which will be pasted at the top of the card. The cards also help in contact tracing.

“We write down the numbers on the card (before collection), so that in the situation where one of the residents is tested positive later, we are able to track the time they made their collection and trace back to the people who queued in front of and behind them,” said Joshua, a 14-year-old student who started volunteering last June.

Cleaning supervisor Sim Kew Beng, 63, has been volunteering with his wife since they moved to the estate in 2014.

Mr Sim, who has taken his booster shot, has accompanied more than 10 senior residents to get their shots.

“It is important not to scold them… but tell them a lot of people have taken it, so there is nothing to be afraid of.

He said as a senior himself, he feels an obligation as well.

“We are seniors and it is also our part to encourage them to go for the vaccine,” said Mr Sim.

• There are others working to keep neighbours safe from Covid-19. Tell ST about the experience in your estate.