Speech by Minister Indranee Rajah at Tsao Foundation’s 30th Anniversary Celebration: ComSA Symposium
Dr Mary Ann Tsao, Chairperson of Tsao Foundation,
Mr Say Kwee Neng, CEO of Tsao Foundation,
Partners, ladies and gentlemen,
Such a pleasure to be with you here today and thank you for inviting me to speak today. I want to start off by first extending my warmest congratulations to Tsao Foundation for reaching this remarkable milestone of its 30th anniversary. Thank you, Dr Mary Ann, for bringing your grandmother’s foundation to where it is today. I am sure she will be very happy to see how far it has come.
Over the last 30 years, Tsao Foundation has sought to be a catalyst for systems change – at both the policy and practice levels – to enhance the well-being of our seniors. This is a topic of some importance to us because we have a rapidly ageing population. So I look forward to the next bound of the Foundation’s journey, as you continue to break new ground in the eldercare sector.
Singapore’s Demographic Context
Tsao Foundation’s work will be increasingly critical, as Singapore has one of the fastest-ageing citizen populations in the world. Last year, just under 1 in 5 of our citizens were aged 65 and above. By 2030, this ratio will be 1 in 4.
Much has already been said about the implications of an ageing population – for instance, on healthcare demand, and in supporting a growing group of seniors amidst fewer working-aged persons. These are significant challenges and issues. At the same time, we need to recognise and harness the opportunities that come with an ageing population, to ensure that our economy and society remains dynamic and vibrant. It is not about growing old and fading into the sunset. It is not about years of life, but how you can put life into your years. That is the ethos behind the 2023 Action Plan for Successful Ageing, launched earlier this year by the Ministerial Committee on Ageing.
Harnessing the Longevity Dividend
One key opportunity that ageing brings is the gift of more years of life.
With increasing lifespans, we can support our people to lead more fulfilling lives and make the most of the “longevity dividend”, by increasing the number of years spent in good health. That assumes you are in good health, thus we have to take steps to ensure that we stay in good health, our people remain healthy.
That is the thinking behind the Healthier SG initiative, where the Government has embarked on efforts to help Singaporeans take proactive steps towards better health. This initiative encourages Singaporeans to enrol with a family doctor who will serve as the first point-of-contact to holistically manage their health needs. In other words, we are going upstream. This includes the development of a personalised health plan, and regular health screenings, to support early detection and management of health issues. Healthier SG is bringing the GPs into the framework so that it is all integrated – the public as well as private healthcare sector.
With good health, the additional years of healthy life can be channeled to pursuits which matter most to each of us, throughout life. Last year, the Stanford Center on Longevity released a report titled “The New Map of Life” which prompted us to rethink how we might live differently, with longer, 100-year lives. It is not something you set out, expecting to achieve, but in this audience here, I have no doubt in time to come, many of you will achieve the 100-year mark. For example, instead of simply assuming a longer post-retirement period, one could re-imagine how those additional years could be used across the different seasons of our lives. More healthy years will allow us to make more time for activities that fulfil our sense of purpose, and remain meaningfully engaged in society and the communities around us. Retirement does not mean retirement from life, it just means the next stage, and we have to figure out how to make that next stage enjoyable and comfortable according to our own circumstances and preferences.
Whole-of-Society Approach for Successful Ageing
Beyond the individual’s efforts, a whole-of-society approach is necessary to encourage successful ageing. Local communities play an important role in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for seniors.
That brings me to the Community for Successful Ageing initiative, or ComSA_,_ which we are gathered to discuss today.
Ten years ago, the Foundation envisioned building an integrated health and social care system for seniors in the community. In 2017, this concept was brought to life with the launch of the ComSA Centre at Whampoa Community Centre. This centre houses a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, care managers, counsellors, social workers, allied health professionals, and volunteers. At the Centre, seniors can access various forms of support and services, and participate in a wide range of programmes.
This one-stop approach was designed to encourage seniors to tap on these services by minimising confusion regarding where to seek assistance. This approach also allows agencies and partners to provide more holistic care to an individual, and reduces duplication of efforts.
Over the last six years, more than 6,000 seniors have been served by the Whampoa ComSA centre. I am heartened by the Foundation’s efforts and successes in running the centre. It must be very nice to see a dream being implemented, so great job there.
Ageing in the Community
The Whampoa ComSA centre illustrates some of the key elements of our national strategy for successful ageing. Ageing-in-place within the community is a key aspect of the 2023 Action Plan, because we recognise that most seniors wish to age in their homes amidst familiar communities and environments. If any of you have ever tried discussing with your parents or grandparents, asking them to move their house or shift somewhere else, you will find that most of them actually do not want to do so, as they are comfortable where they are, simply because the neighbourhood shops are familiar to them, the coffee shop is where they go and spend their time. This is their place. From our perspective, shifting them to a senior care home or retirement village may seem effective, but when you look at it through their eyes, you are like taking them out of their comfort zones and putting them somewhere they do not really wish to be. Thus, recognising that seniors want to age in place has to be an important principle of ageing successfully.
Alongside ground-up initiatives such as ComSA, the Government will continue to work with partners to strengthen the provision of community-based care, and engage seniors to be involved in the community.
Active Ageing Centres (AACs)
To strengthen the provision of community-based care, MOH and the Agency for Integrated Care are working to double the nationwide network of Active Ageing Centres, or AACs, to 220 centres by 2025.
AACs serve as go-to points for seniors in their community, and provide a whole range of healthcare and social services which can be summarised in the acronym ‘ABC + 2S’.
A stands for Active Ageing Activities, and B stands for Befriending services. These efforts encourage seniors to live an active lifestyle and engage in meaningful social interaction.
C stands for referral to Care services, and the ‘2Ses’ refer to the AAC’s role in serving as a Social connector for social and lifestyle interventions, and providing community Screening. The AACs provide support for seniors to follow through on the interventions recommended by their doctors, and monitor selected vital signs between their medical visits.
As my parliamentary colleague Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Health, shared during the launch of the Action Plan: the friends, loved ones and activities in the community are the best therapies to help our seniors stay healthy and prevent frailty.
We also hope seniors can be more involved in the community through volunteering. So those who can volunteer will be a great help as you are helping to help others. Seniors have a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and can make valuable contributions. For example, they can provide their perspectives on how to design programmes and spaces to best meet the needs and preferences of seniors at large. They can also make good befrienders to fellow seniors. Giving back to the society can help seniors stay engaged, and have a stronger sense of dignity and purpose.
In the Whampoa ComSA centre, seniors play an active role in the planning and running of programmes and services. Mdm Ratnam Perioswamy is one of them. Mdm Ratnam volunteers at Cafe Kawan, in Whampoa CC, and helps to plan and execute community programmes for seniors. We will hear first-hand from Mdm Ratnam later in the programme.
To further encourage seniors to give back to the community, RSVP Singapore, which is the SG Cares Office’s National Intermediary for Senior Volunteerism, plans to engage 750 corporations over the next five years, to reach out to their employees who are nearing retirement age, to promote volunteerism as part of their post-retirement lifestyle. SG Cares Volunteer Centres also encourage seniors to stay socially connected through volunteering by matching them to suitable volunteering opportunities with their community partners, based on their interests and skills.
Looking ahead, as I have highlighted, the ComSA initiative is a commendable example of how our people sector partners play a crucial role in enabling seniors to age well in the community – by innovating and building services and programmes which cater to the needs and aspirations of the community.
At this juncture, I would like to thank all the social service agencies and community partners represented here, for your important work in this space. Please give yourselves a big hand.
We look forward to continued partnership with the community and people sector stakeholders, to help current and future seniors live healthy, connected and productive lives. Together, we can foster a strong social compact, leaving no one behind.
In closing, I would like to once again congratulate Tsao Foundation for its 30 years of active participation in the eldercare sector. The last six years of operating the Whampoa ComSA Centre have no doubt provided the Foundation with many learning points, and I trust that today’s presentations and discussions will be both interesting and insightful.
I wish you all a fruitful day at this symposium. Thank you.