SINGAPORE – Having a community where friends could be made meant a lot to Nicholas Tang, especially since there were many places that he could not go to  because of his medical condition.

Mr Tang, 17, suffers from a tumour in his windpipe which prevents him from going to places
that could result in infections, but that did not stop him from singing at a performance at the Assisi Hospice Charity Dinner at the Pan-Pacific Singapore Ballroom on Nov 16.

It was because of the community and friends that Mr Tang has found in Assisi Hospice that he discovered his love for music and has since been developing it. Mr Tang has been a patient at the Day Centre for Children in Assisi Hospice since 2001, the same year the Day Centre for Children was opened.

It’s like a community centre where you can make friends especially during the period of treatment because there’s a lot of places and food that you cannot go and eat because of germs,” Tang told CatholicNews.

While “dying” is normally associated with hospice care, Assisi Hospice Chairman Ronny Tan emphasised that this is not the focus for Assisi. Rather, the hospice aims to help terminally ill patients to “live well” while in their care.

In his address at the charity dinner, Mr Tan explained that the hospice does this by improving the quality of life of patients and their families by “alleviating physical suffering such as pain and breathlessness”. Care is also taken to help them to “understand the psychological and emotional struggles” they go through. Financial support is also provided and “avenues for closure” are created.

There has been a sharp increase in the demand for palliative care. In 2000, Assisi Hospice had 66 patients per day requiring home care service. Today, this has grown to 114 patients per day.

In 2003, 230 patients were admitted for residential hospice care, and this has doubled to 427 inpatients in 2007.
Irene Chan, administrator and spokesperson for Assisi Hospice, told CatholicNews that the sharp increase in demand for palliative care is due to the ageing population in Singapore, high incidence of cancer and other terminal illnesses, and a greater awareness of availability of palliative care.

Support for Assisi Hospice has also increased. This year saw the most number of tables sold for its annual charity dinner. The dinner, sponsored by Pan Pacific Singapore, which has been supporting Assisi Hospice and encouraging volunteerism among its staff since 2004, raised the target of $1 million.

The money was raised through the sale of tables at the charity dinner, through a silent auction of art pieces that had been exhibited at Pan Pacific Singapore and donated by the artists, and through a competitive auction at the dinner.

One of the items on sale, a one-night presidential suite stay for two at the Pan Pacific Singapore, began with a starting bid of $1,288 and gradually rose to $8,500. At this point, the hotel’s general manager, Ivan Lee, threw in three nights stay in a normal room during the Singapore Grand Prix season, and the bidding grew competitive, with the item eventually going to Dr Michael Tien at the price of $20,000.

Another item, a calligraphy drawn by guest-of-honour Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam, was auctioned off for $40,000. The item was purchased by Ho Ching, Assisi Hospice patron and chief executive of Temasek Holdings.

In his off-the-cuff address, Mr Tharman said that hospices and palliative care are going to be “increasingly important” as the government wants to do more in this area as “it needs to cater to a large number of people”. Some of the ways he said that the government will help is to “encourage accreditation” and to encourage more doctors and nurses to take up this specialisation.

Mr Tharman also said that in difficult times, “the business of charity becomes more important and challenging” and that this is something the government recognises and is going to help.

“Charities are not just a substitute for tax dollars, which keeps taxes down,” he said, “but is also a way for people to decide which causes they want to support and put their money there. We hope to encourage a society where rich people are more involved, not just through donating money.”

In 2009, Assisi Hospice needs almost $6 million, of which $4 million is raised through donations, and the remaining comes from government subsidies and payment from patients who can afford.

The proceeds of the dinner leaves Assisi Hospice with a shortfall of $500,000 to be collected by end 2008. Assisi Hospice hopes that the “Light-A-Heart” fundraiser, which involves donors contributing $10 to light up a bulb on a 30-foot Christmas tree outside the hospice, will be able to raise the amount needed.

Assisi Hospice is one of only two Catholic hospices in Singapore, the other being St. Joseph’s Home & Hospice.

Out of the eight hospice providers in Singapore, only Assisi Hospice provides all the following services: in-patient care, day care, home care, loan of medical equipment, recreational activities, special therapies (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, massage), general counselling services, religious counselling, and training for family caregiver. - Daniel Tay, TheCatholicNews

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