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Yesterday (Jan 30), the government announced an updated national blueprint to ensure that Singapore’s seniors be able to age well.
The 2023 Action Plan for Successful Ageing, as it is called, also extends two senior employment schemes and other initiatives to enable volunteerism and learning
It got me thinking about a non-profit organisation that puts volunteers together with seniors in the community – SG Assist, co-founded by Adrian Tan and Greg Tan.
Adrian, 35, started SG Assist together with Greg, 40, in Dec 2018. They were both campmates during reservist and worked in the corporate sector before starting SG Assist. Greg was from the oil and gas industry and Adrian was working in logistics.
The common thing between both of them is that they are caregivers at home.
Greg has to care for his aged father who has mobility issues while Adrian started caregiving for his mother when he was 20. His mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo multiple rounds of medical procedures and chemotherapy which eventually led to her having depression and anxiety.
Whenever Adrian’s mother has a depressive episode, she would clench her fists, and Adrian would often find her lying on the floor when he comes home from work. He would call 995 to seek medical attention for his mother, and at times the SCDF had to break the gates down to get to her.
However, he realised that bringing his mother to the hospital was not the most ideal solution as her case is classified as a non-emergency. She often had to stay in the observation room for hours alone. Adrian adds that when she gets back to her senses, she would become disoriented, triggering another depressive episode.
On one occasion that Greg and Adrian met up, they started talking and realised that they could do something to create a solution to their caregiving situations.
That was how SG Assist came about.
Adrian tells The Pride: “How can we build an app that connects people, that helps seniors buy food and groceries and helps caregivers check on their loved ones and accompany them to their medical appointments?”
As the idea grew, they realised that they could create a volunteering community in the neighbourhood.
Adrian said: “At first, we thought of installing sensors and trackers to detect if a loved one had fallen and required assistance, or if a parent with dementia went missing. But there’s a flaw, it would only notify caregivers, and caregivers would still have to juggle between career and caregiving. They would still have to rush home from work for their loved ones.”
They then decided to come up with a call centre called CareConnect to assist caregivers, which serves as a platform for both emergencies and non-emergencies.
SG Assist hires a team of call agents including PWDs in the call centre. The skill sets and experience that they have as care recipients enable them to help other caregivers as they know when and who to seek help from.
Today, SG Assist empowers working caregivers with timely and affordable assistance for their loved ones at home, through a digital app connecting them to community volunteers near their home.
The app allows real-time communication which forms a social ecosystem where neighbours can help each other out without having to worry for their loved ones while they are at work.
After every service, volunteers, also known as kampung heroes, will be awarded stars that can be exchanged for rewards such as vouchers in the SG Assist marketplace.
One of the challenges Greg and Adrian faced early on while managing SG Assist was encouraging the less tech-savvy elderly to use the app as many of them were not familiar with it. To remain accessible, they used Greg’s number as the SG Assist call line.
Many requests poured in over the phone and it became time-consuming.
There were also situations where they had to liaise with social service agencies supporting the beneficiaries.
Adrian explains: “SG Assist is a volunteering platform so we do not provide financial aid. We were the communication bridge between these individuals and the agencies to let them know that it is still essential to receive help from these agencies.”
When SG Assist was launched, there were also mixed responses from the public.
Adrian said: “People were asking, ‘How can we trust your volunteers? What if your volunteers take advantage of my family members? How do you know if your volunteers are equipped to deal with medical situations at home?’”
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These comments delayed the commencement of the initiative. However, the volunteers showed that they were reliable as more help was rendered.
Adrian said: “The cancellation rate was very low. There were a couple of cancellations, but it was due to unavoidable situations like weather conditions or safety issues like getting in close contact with a Covid positive patient.”
Adrian said users had few concerns regarding safety issues.
“No one was worried if the volunteers were going to do harm because (you can see that) they are compassionate. Most of the time, they will be in constant contact with the caregiver. So in this way, they are like the caregiver’s helpers, the caregiver’s assistants.”
Users were also happy that they are able to give gratitude (in the form of stars) to the volunteers through the app.
Adrian said: “They don’t feel good constantly receiving help from the volunteers, so by doing so they feel more empowered that they are also giving back to the community in some way.”
Many beneficiaries’ lives have changed after receiving help from SG Assist.
Adrian shared: “There was an aunty who messaged us on Facebook… She’s over 80 years old with no family support. She struggled during Covid, couldn’t go back to work, and needed to support herself. She tried to reach out to her MP, but the MP couldn’t communicate with her so she was feeling unsupported.”
“I called her… We talked, and I found out that she was on the verge of committing suicide.”
He said that after SG Assist stepped in to help, they managed to link her up with AIC to get financial assistance for her. And with the support of people around her, she has confidently resumed her everyday life.
Currently, SG Assist hopes to expand its CareConnect service to more seniors and caregivers.
Adrian said: “We want to bring it to more people who struggle between career and caregiving, especially the sandwich generation who has to care for both elderly parents and children. As we are a social enterprise, not only do they get the help from what they need, but they are also supporting the hiring of persons with disabilities in our call centre.”
The team is also working on building an emergency response app which can help volunteers locate the elderly with dementia if they go missing.
Adrian said: “We used to say we hope that SG Assist will one day take away (the need for) volunteering because when people get to know their neighbours, they become friends – we don’t ‘volunteer’ when we help our friends right? We just help because we care.”
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