Monday, March 22, 2010

New lease on life for hospital after 99 years

FAR from their homes in Guangdong province 100 years ago, three clan leaders thought they would scrape together money to buy medical care for their clansmen.

They raised so much – $150,000 – that they built a hospital instead to give free care to anyone.

They also struck a sweetheart deal in their 99-year lease with the British colonial leaders to pay $1 every year in rent for Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital.

That lease expired on Feb 22, and the 6ha land in Serangoon Road was handed over to the Singapore Government. The hospital’s new annual rental bill: $1.4 million.

‘My heart was full of pain,’ said Ms Ling Bee Sian, the hospital’s director of operations, who signed the takeover papers last month with officials from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

‘It’s hard to imagine that this land doesn’t belong to us anymore.’

But far from gaining a new burden, the hospital is getting a big boost in its next phase of life.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) eyes it as an important component in its plan for Singaporeans to get integrated health care. So in September last year, it agreed to increase its subsidy to Kwong Wai Shiu, from $170,000 to what may amount to millions of dollars every year (see box).

It will pay a portion of the hospital’s patient expenses, as well as cover its rent for buildings within its compound that are used for patient care.

Until now, Kwong Wai Shiu, which is run by a voluntary welfare organisation, met its yearly operating costs of about $12 million mainly through public donations and patient fees.

Other plans are afoot for the 50-bed community hospital and 350-bed nursing home, whose patient base is largely the elderly and low-income.

It is in talks with another hospital to provide step-down nursing care to the hospital’s patients, said its vice-chairman Patrick Lee. This is in line with MOH’s plan for acute hospitals and step-down community hospitals to partner and provide seamless care for patients.

Also, with extensions, its new lease would be up by 2015, and the hospital may need to find another home then, depending on ‘the outcome of discussions and consultations with the Ministry of Health and other government agencies’, said an SLA spokesman.

The hospital hopes those talks will coalesce with its ambitions to double the number of its beds to 800 and hire more doctors and nurses. It now runs at 70 per cent occupancy because of the manpower shortage.

In 2007, Kwong Wai Shiu was recognised by MOH as a fully fledged community hospital. It also runs a rehabilitation centre and Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic.

Patients come via walk-ins, referrals and assignments by MOH’s Agency of Integrated Care, which coordinates their placement into appropriate facilities.

More than 90 per cent of its nursing home patients are above 65 years old, with the average age being 83.

Currently, a 30-day stay at the hospital costs between $1,350 and $1,800; and between $450 and $1,200 at the nursing home.

The hospital is in the midst of extracting financial and patient records for MOH to determine the size of the subsidy.

As as result of the agreement, the hospital also began means testing patients, to decide the level of subsidy that each should get.

However that goes, things will not change much for Mr Oh Boon Whay, a nursing home resident who suffered a stroke about 20 years ago.

The public assistance recipient, 80, is perhaps the kind of patient that the original founders wanted to ensure was not left destitute.

He has lived peacefully here alone since 1987. The former caterer and motorcycle enthusiast said: ‘It’s a good life here. Every morning I get up, go for a walk, read my newspapers. Time flies.’

Source: Straits Times, 22 Mar 2010

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