TNP at 27: Presenting the hardware and heartware of Project Helping Hands
Move on, if you are expecting a commentary on SG50/GE15.
I want to talk about life and death.
The New Paper turns 27 today, and we want you to join us in celebrating this milestone with a VIP — Madam Choon Keng Chan.
The 101-year-old Bukit Merah View resident is recovering from a fractured hip after a fall in her home, but she is alive and in good spirits today, because TNP readers and partners made a difference in her life.
She is a beneficiary of Project Helping Hands, a project we launched in October 2010, with the Lions Befrienders Service Association and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Over the following three years, TNP readers and corporate partners helped raise more than $1,000,000.
We had a simple aim — install motion sensors and emergency alarms in the homes of seniors.
Many of them live alone and if they fall or become incapacitated in any way, they could die alone.
Over the years, you would have read about the all-too-familiar aftermath in our pages — neighbours call in the authorities when the stench of a decaying body gets unbearable.
Media reports going back to 2008 detail the discovery of at least seven decomposed bodies.
A year earlier, at least 45 elderly people were reported to have died alone in their homes. It continues to happen today and with 83,000 seniors projected to be living alone by 2030, these tragic lonely deaths could become sickeningly regular.
Five years ago, Ngee Ann Polytechnic students devised a solution and tested the prototype in the homes of a few seniors from the Lions Befrienders network.
Today, a new and improved version of the system has been rolled out by surveillance solutions company Nextan in 500 homes. It combines an alarm that the seniors can activate, and a network of motion sensors that detect changes in their usual movement or rest patterns. An SMS alert is automatically sent to a relative or volunteer befriender when there is a change in the normal patterns.
Project Helping Hands is not just about hardware, though.
Madam Choon is alive today because volunteer befriender Madam Doh Tong Kiok responded to the alert at 11pm. Mind you, she is 70 years old herself.
Madam Doh continues to visit the centenarian as she recovers in a community hospital.
The heartware — volunteer befrienders who must respond in an emergency — is more critical than any system of wires, sensors and alarms.
Both ladies give us cause enough for celebrations today, but there is more. As TNP turns 27, we have reached another milestone. The 500th Elderly Monitoring System (EMS) has just been installed in the Chai Chee flat of Mr Poh Gim Seng, 70.
We took a little longer than originally planned, but five years after we started Project Helping Hands, we are proud to announce to all our donors that their contributions have paid for silent sentinels to watch over 500 seniors who live on their own.
My colleagues and I at TNP are extremely proud that our little heartland newspaper had a hand in rolling out what is possibly the largest EMS in operation in Singapore today. However, the lion’s share of the credit goes to Lions Befrienders, under the able leadership of chairman Mr Richard Koong.
Looking back to when we started this project five years ago, I can still recall a video my colleagues produced of a sombre ceremony to scatter the ashes of Mr Chong Tay Kwong, who was found dead in his one-room rental flat in Circuit Road five days after his 65th birthday. He died alone and his decomposing body was discovered because the stench of death had reached neighbours.
Not the most auspicious of ways to mark an anniversary, but I thought it important to bring you that video again, together with the one of a unit being installed to ensure that tragic scene is not repeated.
Happy Birthday from all of us at TNP to all of Singapore on SG50, and as you read our special report today, think about befriending an elderly resident in your neighbourhood.
— DOMINIC NATHAN, EDITOR OF THE NEW PAPER