Eldercare in Singapore seems beset by demographic challenges. On the one hand, a quarter of the population will be aged 65 and above by 2030, which translates to a need for an additional 30,000 healthcare workers by 2020. On the other hand, there are now fewer younger workers available, and a long-standing difficulty of attracting people to the nursing sector. Ensuring our greying population will be adequately cared for thus appears to be a daunting task.
Changing The Way We Care For The Elderly
Enter Homage, a social enterprise that uses an algorithm to match senior citizens with trained and certified care professionals—an Uber model for eldercare, if you will. Cofounded by technopreneur Gillian Tee, along with healthcare executive Lily Phang, the service was launched in 2016 and has since amassed over 300 caregivers and delivered more than 20,000 hours of caregiving.
All of Homage’s caregivers are Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and over half come with professional nursing experience. These former nurses are given regular refresher courses, while those who are new to caregiving receive stringent training that enables them to qualify for certification from the Agency for Integrated Care.
“There’s this weird attitude about ageing
that’s almost like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Tee muses.
“We have so many people applying to be caregivers; our acceptance rate is now less than 10 per cent,” Gillian shares. “Besides being a sustainable source of manpower, the other advantage of a local caregiver workforce is that they can better connect with the elderly by speaking the same languages and dialects. In terms of growth, we can easily double every quarter.”
Homage has been able to tap into this powerful latent workforce mainly due to its business model. Families seeking caregivers for the elderly can enter their details (for example, the medical conditions the elderly person has) on the Homage website or app, or simply call up its hotline. A care assessment by Homage staff might also take place in person, if necessary. All this data is then entered into the Homage system, to match the client with a caregiver who is both suitably trained (for instance, some might be experienced in engaging dementia patients) and available during the requested caregiving period. This flexibility means women who left their jobs to raise their children, for instance, can still earn an income by taking on work that fits their schedules. Currently, over 90 per cent of Homage caregivers are women, and client requests are typically fulfilled within a day.
Efficiency aside, Homage’s larger mission can be gleaned from the name of the business. Gillian was raised by her grandmother and an elderly nanny as a child, and moved back to Singapore after spending 15 years in the start-up scene in New York and Silicon Valley partly because her mother was getting older and she wanted to be closer to home. “Homage means paying respect to a person you hold in high regard. For me, it’s about giving esteem and dignity back to the people who have given us so much,” she explains.
During the first few months of starting their business, Gillian and co-founder Lily focused solely on understanding their customers. “If you start off with the technology, it will not work,” Gillian explains. “We found families who needed caregivers and learned about the issues they were facing and how we could help them.” That handson experience—right down to helping to change adult diapers—made her realise that families of all shapes and sizes frequently faced the same problems but seldom talked to others about these challenges.
“Homage means paying respect to a person you hold in high regard.
For me, it’s about giving esteem and dignity back to the people
who have given us so much,” Tee explains.
“There’s this weird attitude about ageing that’s almost like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” she muses. That strange reticence will not help the demographic changes that are coming our way. “We take for granted the things we do every day—walking around, moving from our bed to the dining table, feeding ourselves. But when we advance to a point in our lives when we can’t do these things anymore, what are our options? As we get older, what does it take to be in a setting of your choosing, where you can be independent? For us, transforming eldercare is about thinking through a holistic set of healthcare and wellness solutions, so that people can have options and feel in control.”
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