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COVID-19 made elderly care a whole lot harder, but caregivers in M’sia are persisting

Demand for geriatric (elderly) care has grown dramatically since early March last year due to the country’s first lockdown. Elderly care services and nursing homes had to fill the gap that adult children found difficult to meet.

This was especially so as the latter juggled between WFH and attending to other family members, like their own young children. To understand the situation, I spoke to 4 senior care providers to learn more about their experiences over the past year.

They are:

Working within restrictions

All of our interviewees reported a similar spike in demands for their services, even up to 150% for Homage. Hence, the company had to up their manpower by hiring more healthcare workers and getting movement permits to serve seniors at their homes. 

As Oretha’s service required her to escort seniors from their homes to other locations, she onboarded volunteers and assigned them to clients within their own districts to abide by travel restrictions.

Oretha meeting her clients at their homes / Image Credit: Oretha’s Senior Concierge Services

On top of just accompanying seniors on doctor’s appointments, Oretha reported that clients who felt lonely while home alone were also inviting helpers to their homes. This was just so they could have a meal and a chat together.

CARE Concierge was quick to isolate the residents in their nursing home, The Mansion. To help them get their social fix, caregivers would assist them with video calls so they could still connect with friends and family virtually. 

Employees were also provided accommodation within The Mansion itself to reduce unnecessary exposure from the public and keep everyone safe. 

My Aged Care restricted family visitations by setting up appointment slots for visitors to minimise the risk of cross-contamination from different households. 

To ensure that the virus wouldn’t spread from caregivers to their elderly clients, all employees and volunteers under the 4 elderly services companies were equipped with the necessary masks, gloves, and hand sanitisers. 

But as careful as one can be, there have been close calls

Activities with the elders / Image Credit: My Aged Care

Before My Aged Care would accept seniors into their nursing facility, they had to first test negative for COVID-19. However, as family members could still visit the home, residents were once exposed to a close contact.

“We were shocked, but the first thing we did was run the rapidtest (RTK) on that resident and the staff who attended to them. They were then isolated as we waited for their results,” recounted Mr. Goh.

A sense of dread plagued the caretakers at the home while awaiting the test results. Having heard about nursing homes in Italy where almost half of the residents died from the virus’s spread internally, it was a morbid path to spiral down.

“But the main thing was that we had to stay calm because we have to take care of the other residents too,” Mr. Goh stated, grateful that the results came back negative in the end.

Homage had their nurses and therapists suited in PPE during their clients’ home treatments. Despite such measures, they struggled with a client whose family member had tested positive, while other family members were already showing some signs of symptoms.

“We found out only when our Care Professional arrived at the home and felt something was amiss, given the atmosphere at home and how the family members were behaving,” said the team. Upon reporting this case, the Care Professional immediately underwent a swab test, while the family was advised to halt appointments until their quarantine period was over.

“We struggle with families who hide the truth out of the fear of being stigmatised and not getting the care for their loved ones from our nurses,” they shared, stressing the high level of accountability they had to uphold to keep everyone within their own team and other clients safe. 

Distinguishing the noise from the facts

Another struggle faced by these caregivers came from educating their clients about COVID-19’s dangers and the ever-changing SOPs in the country. Most seniors were confused and frustrated, as they were stopped from going about their daily routines. 

It didn’t help either when they’d read the many fake stories spread via Whatsapp. Inclined to believe them, it was challenging for Oretha and the staff at Homage and My Aged Care who had to help them distinguish the noise from the facts.

“Some of the elderly are no longer lucid, suffering from dementia and senility. For those, not much can be done. Hence we are the ones who need to take care of them and also we are the ones who keep them safe,” explained Mr. Goh. 

Thankfully, Oretha added that the seniors are now much more aware of what can and cannot be done under the country’s SOPs. “They are better at using MySejahtera and try to do their best at adhering to the SOPs,” shared the proud caregiver. She added that most of her clients were also pretty excited to get vaccinated, where her team will be accompanying them throughout the process, a service also offered by Homage.

Bringing the seniors for their vaccinations / Image Credit: Homage

As for the nursing homes, CARE Concierge managed to arrange appointments with KKM to directly vaccinate the seniors within the facility itself. My Aged Care shared that they too, are working to secure such a deal.

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Caregiver burnout is not something that’s often discussed, and these unprecedented times can take a toll on them too. At Homage, the team with increased workloads and longer hours must juggle between tasks quickly, and have reduced their own quality time spent with loved ones. 

Some of My Aged Care’s staff, which consist of Sabahans and Filipinos, have not seen their own family members for over a year. While they understand their responsibility in caring for one of COVID-19’s most vulnerable groups, they’re also putting themselves at risk. Martin Yap shared that the CARE Concierge team faced the same, which makes it all the more important that they support each other while living in The Mansion. 

“Mindfulness has to start somewhere and we will always advise the team to shut off at a certain time and to look out for one another,” added Homage’s team, a sentiment shared amongst the other services.

  • You can read about other MCO-related topics here.

Featured Image Credit: Homage

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