Surya Home, provides the only psychiatric nursing service island-wide for 300 residents, needs a new home.
By Yong Yung Shin
Nestled in a leafy, peaceful corner of north-east Singapore in Buangkok is a haven that has been a home for more than 300 individuals, in all senses of the word.
Set up in 2005, Surya Home is the one of the few psychiatric homes in Singapore that take in mentally-disabled individuals, which presently number about 300 residents aged between 25 and 70 afflicted by dementia, schizophrenia, depression and Down Syndrome, among others. Many of these individuals come from low-income families, and some do not have next-of-kin.
In its continuing commitment to donate part of the offerings the church collects from its weekly prayer meeting on Friday evenings toward a charitable cause, City Harvest Church presented Surya Home with a love gift in support of the work it has been quietly doing.
The home is run by a full-time staff of 80 headed by nursing director Charles Lingham, 76, who has been working in the mental health care sector for 55 years. “In psychiatric care, bonding between the caregiver and the patient is very important; if it is broken, it can be very traumatic,” says Lingham.
However, the home’s existence is now under threat, as it has received an eviction notice to vacate the premises by next year, says Lingham. They are currently trying to find a replacement property which can house its 300-odd residents.
“Sometimes the greatest present we can give people is our presence. All these years, Surya has been there for these people,” says Santhi Singaram, a volunteer who has been working among the intellectually-disabled for more than 10 years. Singaram and her team have been making regular visits to Surya Home.
Residents at the home are divided into four categories according to the level of care and attention needed. With a resident-to-caregiver ratio of eight to one in the least intensive category and two to one in the most intensive, the home works to ensure that every person receives individualized attention.
During a tour of the home, this reporter was greeted with outstretched arms for a handshake or a hug and cheery hello’s. “The love they’re capable of expressing is a reflection of the love they receive from their caregivers here,” says Lingham.
There are moments when residents succumb to aggression or violence, on a physiological or emotional level. Coupled with the support offered by in-house therapists and the training the caregivers themselves have in managing behavioral problems and emotional outbursts, residents regularly go for more comprehensive checks at the nearby Institute of Mental Health, explains the home’s senior nursing officer, Gopalan.
The residents spend their time engaging in various activities such as watching television, playing games, talking sessions, newspaper reading and light physical activities. Those who are more able-bodied are given housekeeping tasks such as sweeping the compounds and doing light landscaping to keep their minds and bodies active.
A neighboring block houses day-care facilities for autistic individuals. At another block of building labeled Occupational Therapy, the latest hits on the music charts can be heard blaring from speakers. Here, the more abled residents receive assignments to sort and pack headsets for Singapore Airlines. Indeed, 14 ex-residents have been successfully reintegrated into society, having found employment and housing at local set-ups, such as an egg farm and a coffee shop.
Despite the challenge that looms ahead, Lingham and his team are taking it one day at a time, continuing to serve and care for those who, if not for Surya Home, may not have anywhere to go.