Catholic Wefare Services 50th anniversary celebration: (From left) Sister Assunta Leong, FMM, Sister Marilyn Lim, FDCC, Mrs Khaw Boon Wan, Eugene Tan, Archbishop Nicholas Chia, Thomas Tan, Brother Emmanuel Gaudette, SG, Minister Lim Boon Heng, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, James Chew, Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Monsignor Francis Lau, Mrs Irene Loi, Michael Thio. Photo provided by Catholic Welfare Services

A Singapore government minister has praised the Church’s contributions to social service in Singapore and urged it to reflect on how it can improve on existing services and do more.

SINGAPORE – The Church and Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) have done a lot of good work over the years to fill the needs of society, such as by providing support to the poor and the elderly, and providing help to those in crisis, said Lim Boon Heng, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Mr Lim, who was speaking at the CWS 50th anniversary celebration dinner on Aug 19, said the Singapore government was grateful for the Church’s contributions and he urged CWS and the Church as a whole to reflect on how they can improve on existing services and do more. He specially called on the Church to play a bigger role in supporting an ageing population.
Mr Lim’s comments come at a time when “baby-boomers”, like Mr Lim himself who is 62, are slated to join the ranks of the elderly in a few years.

According to 2008 government statistics, the number of people aged 65 and over stood at 315,800 – 8.7 per cent of Singapore’s 3.6 million resident population. The elderly population is set to rise by half a million over the next 10-15 years.

“Assuming the demand that we have now, the need for nursing beds will double in 10 years and triple in 20 years,” Mr Lim, who chairs the Ministerial Committee of Ageing, estimated.

The CWS currently runs three nursing homes that care for the elderly – Villa Francis Home for the Aged, St. Joseph’s Home and St. Theresa’s Home. They are operating at their full capacity of 472. Mr Lim announced that discussions would commence soon on the development of St. Theresa’s Home. This is on top of the $25-million development plan the Health Ministry announced in June to increase the capacity of Villa Francis from 133 beds to 250.

“One of the issues you should consider is how the three homes can work more closely with one another, to save costs and maintain standards,” he said. “In the past, it was an advantage for the Catholic Church to have several groups of passionate people with the energy and dedication to start new services. In today’s high cost environment, and rising standards, greater integration would be an advantage,” he added.

CatholicNews learned from James Chew, CWS Executive Director, that the three nursing homes now have a central management committee and there is also cross-training for staff.

In his speech, Mr Lim laid down several challenges and suggestions for CWS and the Catholic Church, one of which is to provide a “seamless continuum of care for the elderly” since the Church already has a hospital (Mount Alvernia), nursing homes and hospice care.

“I think the resources of the Catholic Church are not fully exploited,” Mr Lim, a Catholic, suggested.

In caring for the elderly, the minister said that although nursing homes are a necessity, “we want to help our seniors to grow old in their homes as far as possible”. To this end, the government is looking to expand day care, home care, escort, transport and befriending services, and would like CWS to work with the government in these areas.

Mr Lim said support for caregivers is needed and respite options such as elder-sitting and caregiver support groups are important. “CWS can tap on its volunteers and church facilities to provide for this,” he suggested.

The minister also pointed out that Singapore promotes a Wellness Programme among the elderly to keep them healthy with medical screenings, healthcare information and activities such as senior aerobics, computer gaming and singing. The Church, he noted, is “a valuable avenue for active ageing” and “well-positioned to help run the Wellness Programme using its facilities” because the Church “is a place where people already come together to worship and meet each other. It is ideally positioned to promote wellness among its members with the additional spiritual component”.

Seniors’ participation in Church ministries enables them to contribute their time and expertise to the community while still interacting with their peers and other volunteers, or with younger parishioners and will promote intergenerational bonding, the minister added.

By Darren Boon
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