SAFELY DISTANT, SOCIALLY CLOSE
St Luke’s Hospital has started new programmes during “circuit breaker” to help patients lift their spirits, and facilitate recovery or improve their quality of life.
During circuit breaker, hospital visits were restricted throughout Singapore to protect patients from COVID-19 infections. Patients miss the physical presence of their loved ones. As a hospital that cares for the whole person, we know that patients have more than just physical needs. They also have social and emotional needs. Serious illness may negatively affect mood, which in turn may negatively affect appetite, sleep and willingness to partake of medication and therapy.
The programmes to help patients stay safely distant but socially close are helping patients stay connected, a “radio” programme and virtual volunteering.
Helping patients stay connected
The hospital has used technology for therapy over the years, and turned to technology to help patients stay connected with their families. This is effortless for many of us who own and use mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. However, as a charity hospital, most patients at St Luke’s Hospital are lower-income. They may not have mobile devices. We appealed for such devices, and were encouraged that staff and the public donated old and even new devices. For patients who did not know how to use the devices, ward staff helped them to see and hear from their friends and families.
Patient Teo Chiew Tien’s children were amongst the affected caregivers. They used to visit her daily. Her daughter, Susie Tan said, “We were quite sad and worried as we did not know how she would react.”
The hospital made arrangements so Mdm Teo “could see her family more often”, and surprised Susie with a video call using a tablet. Seeing Susie on screen, Mdm Teo was surprised too. Mdm Teo was glad to see her 80th birthday celebration photos, and photos of her grandchildren. Her very first call lasted 30 minutes.
Susie said, “The video call really helped us, to know that our mum is well.”
While patients may be unfamiliar with mobile devices, they grew up with radio. We started a new programme, “Good morning St Luke’s”. This is a 10-minute “radio show” broadcast over the hospital’s public announcement system in all wards (about 200 patients daily). It is hosted by volunteer Timothy Khoo and the hospital’s music therapist Isabel Tan.
Each broadcast comprises an interview and a musical performance. Interviewees included hospital staff, patients, politicians (Mr Murali Pillai, MP of Bukit Batok SMC and Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources and Ministry of Health) and celebrities (Chew Chor Meng, Zhu Hou Ren and Aileen Tan). They shared their personal reflections and words of encouragement to our staff and patients. Professionals and members of the public also contributed songs and music. More than 30 people have taken part in the programme.
Many staff and patients were encouraged by the programme. Goh Guay Hua, 73, who was hospitalised after a fall, was “delighted to hear the soothing song”. She said, “Singing makes me happy.”
Besides patients, volunteers were affected too. Before the outbreak, volunteering was onsite. We saw how technology was used for therapy to help home-bound patients. We thought we could use technology where home-bound volunteers could help cheer up patients in the hospital. We started virtual volunteering during circuit breaker, after a successful trial in early May. Using the internet, mobile devices and TV, volunteers who are not physically present in wards could engage and interact with patients, for example, through song dedications. Over 30 volunteers have served virtually.
St Luke’s Hospital cares for 2,000 inpatients and 3,000 outpatients each year, regardless of race, language or religion.
St Luke’s Hospital nurses help Mdm Teo Chiew Tien use a tablet to stay in contact with her children. In her very first video call, she reassures them that “mum is well”.