COVID-19 has affected all our lives but it has arguably had a greater impact on seniors and caregivers in Singapore. A report by Oliver Wyman in collaboration with the Lien Foundation revealed the statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on the elderly population and examined how Singapore’s long-term care providers – nursing homes, day care centres, and homecare providers – navigated through the pandemic.
Here are 3 key takeaways from the report titled “Navigating a New Reality: COVID-19 Challenges and Opportunities for Long-term Care in Singapore”:
1. Few care home deaths but seniors who are not care home residents may also find themselves in vulnerable positions
According to the report, Singapore had the 2nd lowest number of care home deaths as a percentage of total care home residents among the sample of 21 countries. However, the pandemic has disrupted the delivery of medical care and social care, and there has been a multiplier effect on seniors’ physical and mental wellbeing, even for those who have not contracted the COVID-19 virus.
One of the greatest challenges was when the government announced a community-wide lockdown and day care centres had to be closed. Operators and geriatric experts observed that the period of isolation at home may have led to the mental and physical deterioration of seniors, with some forgetting how to perform daily activities.
While day care centres tried to adapt by going online, only 20-50% of seniors regularly engaged in virtual activities. More needs to be done to tackle these challenges and ensure that Singapore’s long-term care sector is well-equipped to take care of our elderly population even amidst pandemics.
2. Increased adoption of home care, with demand growing for home medical and nursing care
Given that nursing homes and day care centres had to adapt to new regulations and advisories and certain services were discontinued, it is no surprise that demand for home medical and nursing care increased.
Operators in the study saw up to 20% growth in home nursing and 25-50% growth in home medical care. Apart from the absence of certain care services, some caregivers may also prefer for their elderly parents to stay at home because that would minimize interaction with others and therefore decrease the risk of infection.
Homecare operators saw a promising foray into telehealth, and many piloted the service for the first time, with one operator reporting a 90% growth in telehealth adoption.
3. Accelerated transformation towards an integrated, tech-enabled model
The report talked about opportunities for the long-term care sector in leveraging practical technology solutions that already exist in the market. It was pointed out that there has been an increase in the usage of technology solutions such as remote monitoring, assistive robots and social connectivity platforms during the pandemic.
Moving forward, some of the key opportunities identified for the long-term care sector are:
Pivot to digital-led care models that are integrated closely with offline models. Examples include telehealth, using remote monitoring and back-end analytics and virtual day care
Empower patients and plan for future disruptions by deploying sensor-based technology such as wearables and remote devices for medication adherence
Redesign nursing homes and day care facilities and introduce devices such as assistive robots and AI-based solutions (software for CCTV facial recognition and temperature screening for example)
Empower the workforce for the future. Use lessons from COVID-19 to redesign jobs and reorganize teams. Free up staff using technology such as remote monitoring, IoT-enabled administrative systems and assistive robots.
Place greater emphasis on mental health and wellbeing. Focus on social connectivity through digital platforms and VR-based programs
Provide greater support for primary caregivers via upskilling and wellbeing initiatives to better prepare them to navigate uncertainties. This can be done through digital communities and training for caregivers.
All in all, the report emphasized the need for Singapore’s long-term care sector to become more pandemic-resilient. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the sector’s transformation towards an integrated, tech-enabled model and the imagined future for Singapore is one where aging-in-place is the clear default, with accessible and diverse care options at home and a blended program of online and offline day care services.
For those of you who wish to read the full report, it can be found here: https://www.oliverwyman.com/content/dam/oliver-wyman/v2/publications/2020/october/navigating-a-new-reality_v1.pdf