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by Rudi Tinga (words and pictures)
One of the youngest patients in Peacehaven – The Salvation Army’s nursing home in Changi, Singapore – Muhammad Asfirrudin Bin Zaruden is something of a miracle. When he was admitted in February last year with a brain tumour doctors gave him only a few months to live.
The treatment and atmosphere in Peacehaven are literally the difference between life and death to Asfirrudin. He has his own room and enjoys the attention he gets from the staff. Captain Ian Robinson, executive director of the centre, and his wife Isobel have become valued friends. Every day they try to visit him and Ian’s smile, touch and friendly words seem to comfort the young patient.
Asfirrudin’s surroundings now are a contrast to the environment he comes from. His parents divorced in December 2002, leaving Asfirrudin’s father, who works as a contract cleaner, with custody of Asfirrudin and his elder brother. They lived in a small two-room flat and during the day the father could not give the care his son needs.
The young patient needs constant care. He is bed-bound and is fed through a tube. He also has a tube to help his breathing. He requires regular rehabilitation training for his upper and lower limbs. Recently, he has been showing signs of response to his name and also through moving his fingers on his left hand.
Even with these small victories there is an awareness that Asfirrudin has not got long to live. ‘Each day could be his last ,’ says Ian – a description that could be used for most of the 339 residents in Peacehaven. At least he will spend his last days in comfortable surroundings where he is well cared for.
Back in 1956 The Salvation Army opened a nursery home for abandoned babies and those of unwed mothers at Upper Bukit Timah Road.
To meet the growing demand for elderly residential care, the home was changed in 1972 to the Lee Kuo Chan Home for the Aged. Priority was given to elderly people from low-income families.
In 1996 the work was moved to Pasir Panjang, where 108 residents were accommodated in a dementia ward, a nursing ward and two general wards. At the same time planning and fundraising began to build a new facility on the site of a former boys’ home on Upper Changi Road North, not far from the airport.
Construction began in 1998 and by 2000 the first residents were transferred from Pasir Panjang to the new Peacehaven Nursing Home for the Aged. General John Gowans officially opened the new facility in March 2000 and it now caters for all ages.
A large mosaic Salvation Army crest marks the floor in the entrance hall. It is a very modern building and in different wards more than 160 staff in nursing, therapy, support service, dietary, laundry and administrative roles give ‘professional care in a Christian environment’.
‘That is Peacehaven’s philosophy,’ explains Captain Isobel Robinson, who was a nurse before she and her husband became Salvation Army officers in the USA. ‘It emphasises our attention to the holistic care – physical, spiritual and emotional – of our residents.’
Under the Approved Provider framework Peacehaven is able to obtain the services of general practitioners, geriatricians, psychogeriatricians, dieticians, chiropodists and other professionals to offer the highest possible level of care. The home has initiated a strong emphasis on education, training its own health care assistants and facilitating dementia-specific training by medical professionals from the USA and Australia. Its training courses have been extended to the staff of other nursing homes and community hospitals.
All residents and their families are aware of Peacehaven’s Christian emphasis. Jimi Tan, the chaplain, is an Anglican. Twice a week he conducts chapel services, assisted by volunteers including two retired Salvation Army commissioners. He also visits each resident living area (ward) and, using MP3 players, he presents the Bible to residents in their own dialect. This is very useful because there are several distinct dialects in China, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teo Chew. Since he started in Peacehaven three years ago, Chaplain Jimi has led almost 200 residents to the Lord.
Jimi describes himself as ‘Heaven’s immigration officer’, trying to convince the elderly that they need a ‘heavenly passport’ before they leave this earth. Jimi is not a Salvationist but he has a high regard for The Salvation Army. He has been recruiting for the Changi Corps (church), which is also part of the complex. In the past year alone, 25 residents have been made adherents of the corps.
The Singapore Government funded 80 per cent of the building costs, with the Army raising the rest through a capital campaign. The Army also had to pay 100 per cent of the cost of the corps and conference centre buildings. Ninety per cent of the residents are on government subsidy and about one third are public assistance cases, which means they have no means of paying their share of the cost. The Salvation Army subsidises them.
Because of the growing need for accommodation for elderly people, plans are being made to introduce accommodation for men and women who need less care.
‘We are looking to set up three programmes in what will be our new wing. We also want to house people with dementia problems there,’ says Isobel.
The Robinsons can tell numerous moving stories of people who have been changed by accepting Jesus Christ into their life. ‘We have a female resident who came to us from the Institute of Mental Health. She was an alcoholic – very aggressive and difficult to handle. She never gave any attention to her children. They are now grown up and had very little to do with her, except for her eldest son, who felt an obligation to stay in contact with her.
‘The woman was verbally and physically abusive and shouted and swore at the nurses. Our staff, including Chaplain Jimi, continued to pray for her and quietly witnessed to her until one day she accepted Christ as her saviour. From that moment on she was a different person. Her son did not recognise her when she asked him how he was doing. It took him some time to convince his siblings to come and see the change in their mother.’
On his way through the wards Captain Ian Robinson’s smile is returned by even bigger smiles and signs of recognition in the eyes of the residents on the dementia ward. He waves to an old woman and she asks him to come closer. She whispers something in his ear and holds his hand.
There is no aggression and no abusive words. It’s a very different story to when she first came to Peacehaven. ‘Thanks be to God!’ says Ian. ‘See how she has changed!’
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© 2013 The Salvation Army