Old is gold: Champs give back
*Due to the current novel coronavirus situation, Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s physical volunteer activities and recruitment are on hold until further notice.
He is neither a medical professional nor a patient. But before COVID-19 struck, 57-year-old Ken Lim could be spotted making the rounds in the Total Knee Replacement Ward of Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) at least twice a week.
As a volunteer, Ken was helping total knee replacement patients navigate the process of undergoing and recovering from the procedure, which he understands intimately, having gone through it himself in 2016.
He recalls it being a painful ordeal but persevered through the exercises and recovered so quickly that he managed to go for his Taiwan holiday four days after the operation.
After the procedure, he was invited to join TTSH as a volunteer to help encourage and inform pre-op patients.
“Look at me – I tell them. My knee recovered so quickly because I exercised regularly… Most of them listen to me because they know I’m an ex-patient, and they can see what I’ve managed to achieve so far.”
He tells them what to expect of the procedure, then guides them through their post-op exercises. His job is to supplement what medical and allied health staff do for patients. “If I can reduce some of the workload from the staff here, then the people who benefit are the patients.”
Ken is one of 48 trained volunteers under the Temasek Foundation - Centre for Health Activation Mobilises Para-clinical Seniors (CHAMPS) programme, a volunteer initiative developed by TTSH medical staff to train seniors aged 50 and above in para-clinical skills.
Funded by non-profit organisation Temasek Foundation, the programme’s pilot run started in September 2018 and was supposed to end in August 2020 but has been extended to August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, TTSH plans to continue with the programme beyond this period after receiving positive feedback from both patients and volunteers.
Other than the Total Knee Replacement Programme (TKR), the hospital also devised the Hospital Elder Life Programme (HELP) in which inpatients are engaged through activities to prevent the onset of delirium, and the Eye Clinic Volunteer Programme where volunteers support eye clinic patients.
With Singapore’s population rapidly aging — the proportion of residents aged 65 years and above grew from 9 per cent in 2010 to 15.2 per cent in 2020 — CHAMPS Programme aims to nurture active seniors in order to support the increasing demands of healthcare services, whilst still keeping them engaged in their later years.
It makes sense to tap into the pool of senior volunteers considering TTSH’s larger population of elderly patients. The volunteers bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, and function like a peer-to-peer support system for patients.
However, it’s not always smooth-sailing. For Nora Omar, 56, who volunteers with HELP, her job is to engage inpatients with games and conversation to keep them alert. Befriending senior patients, she says, is sometimes met with rejection especially when they are too tired to interact. But she remained unfazed.
“I felt it was my calling because my mum was diagnosed with diabetes, and I have no nursing nor caregiving skills. So by volunteering in a hospital, I hope to learn how to be a better caregiver.”
Giving is Receiving
CHAMPS Programme volunteers and healthcare staff are a close-knit community that is committed to providing a better care experience for patients.
Lynette Poh, 53, takes pride in the skills she has acquired as a volunteer at TTSH’s Eye Clinic, where she educates glaucoma-related patients on what to expect and how to perform the machine-based eye test accurately.
She started out wanting to give back to society but in turn found a supportive community. “They inspire me to do better and it’s also a very pleasant experience, hearing from them [and] sharing their experiences,” she says.
TTSH Nurse Clinician Caroline Chung maintains that having senior volunteers has helped increase patient confidence. “We only have the experience of nursing the patient…but pain-wise, the best people to help are ex-patients who can share their success stories.”
Ken believes that giving is receiving and urges more seniors to volunteer. “I feel very satisfied after I help people. If elderly people want to become volunteers, why not? They have so much free time. If you are worried about how to do the job, don’t worry! As long as you are willing to put in the effort and time, any volunteer job would suit you.”
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