Given that the percentage of senior citizens has risen from 6.0% in 1990 to 9.3% in 2011 (see citation below), Singapore is experiencing ageing population. The trends of ageing population are more prevalent in central Redhill, whereby the percentage of senior citizens is 14%. Medical services thus need to be more comprehensive and affordable to cater to the elderly.
Tzu Chi Free Clinic (Singapore) has been caring for the health of the senior citizens, low income families and workers and Tzu Chi care recipients by providing Western medical services, TCM services and dental services.
However, once a week of medical consultation is deemed insufficient and hence the Free Clinic decided to expand its TCM services to six days per week so as to make full use of the spacious compound and to maximize the welfare of the people.
The move received much support from the grassroots organization that they helped pasted 200-odd posters to spread awareness of the availability of the services. In addition to putting up posters on notice boards of flats nearby, the grassroots organization also requested for eight banners to be placed on the main streets around Redhill.
The efforts of the Free Clinic, coupled with the publicity held by the grassroots committee made the TCM services known to more people with time. Ever since the trial run began in October, there has been an average of 20 people coming for medical consultation or follow-up treatments everyday with a total of 517 people benefited from the run.
The launching ceremony for the TCM services was held on 13 November at 12.30pm outside the compound of the Free Clinic. Under the witness of guests-of-honours, Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong, Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Singapore, and Radin Mas CCC Chairman Mr Lim Huan Chiang, the enhanced TCM services was officially launched. About 200 residents and Tzu Chi volunteers were there to witness the event too.
The simple and warm ceremony opened with the Tzu Chi sign language performance of the song ‘World Filled with Warmth’, followed by a speech by deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Kenny Khoo. Brother Khoo thanked Mr Sam Tan, who was also the mayor of Central Singapore district for the strong support of his grassroots committee which enables the Free Clinic to reach out to 40 to 50 patients per day. He hopes that the expansion of the TCM services will help make the Free Clinic a more comprehensive healing place.
After which, it was Mayor Tan’s turn to conduct his speech. He recalled that when Tzu Chi Free Clinic first moved from its old premise in Chinatown to the Redhill neighbourhood, he frequently heard about senior citizens praising the excellent services provided by the Free Clinic while on house visits. He affirmed that Tzu Chi Free Clinic has raised the quality of healthcare standards in Redhill and further commended Tzu Chi volunteers for running recycling points in the neighbourhood for their monthly recycling and awareness promotion. He expressed his gratitude to Tzu Chi Singapore for its contribution and that he feels honoured to be able to assist Tzu Chi in securing the premises for the Free Clinic in Redhill.
Mayor Tan described the way Tzu Chi Free Clinic has grown from being a seedling to a tree that can provide much shading to the people under it. This is only possible due to years of efforts. In addition, Mayor Tan felt that this is only one of the examples, as "what we are doing every day is also like planting of seeds".
He explained, "Doing good deeds would be like planting good seeds, and in turn we would have desirable effects, which would be like harvesting good fruits. Only by doing this would our society have more shades for people to depend on and everyone would feel more warmth and hope."
Lastly, the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) members performed another Tzu Chi sign language song ‘Spread the Love’, which happened to echo the speech made by the Mayor.
Mutual trust and human warmth
“Is it really absolutely free?” This is the question that Mdm Wu asked again and again when being recommended to undergo an acupuncture treatment at the Free Clinic. The 94-year-old senior who lives alone was not afraid of the possible pain inflicted but was more worried about not being able to pay for the service. She has been experiencing hardship for her whole life which results in her slow walking pace and a seriously crooked back that is close to 90 degrees.
Mdm Wu recounted that both her legs were already in pain the day before and the medicine she consumed was not effective. She had to use her marketing trolley as a makeshift walking aid and bear with the pain while making the trip to the Free Clinic.
Dr Lai Hin Wai inferred that Mdm Wu has no serious health problems after checking her wrist pulses. The problems might be due to high level of uric acid in her body. While Mdm Wu was still wondering whether she really do not have to pay, Dr Lai used an ointment to massage her kneecaps and conduct acupunctures so as to alleviate her pains. Upon hearing Dr Lai conversing in Cantonese which Mdm Wu herself is much familiar with and being comforted by him gently, her pains were more or less lessened.
Hong Kong born Dr Lai is a Tzu Chi volunteer who values the interaction with his patients. In his previous experiences participating in most free clinics, he often had to compromise giving words of comfort to patients considering their huge volume which at times made him felt like a ‘healing machine’ rather than a 'healer'. He is much heartened that the Tzu Chi Free Clinic's principles are much similar to his and that he gets to exhibit more care and concern to his patients.
After some changes to the Free Clinic's structure, the TCM team was formed formally with eight physicians (with Dr Lai being the resident doctor), a pharmacist and Tzu Chi volunteers working in shifts.
According to Dr Lai, a typical consultation with a patient takes about 15 minutes, but if acupuncture services are required, it is inevitable to take up about 30 minutes. Dr Lai added that if he senses that some patients needed moral support, he will indicate it on the patients' records so that the volunteers on duty will chat up with them while they're waiting for their prescription.
Diabetes patient Mdm Feng came to the Free Clinic once a week for follow-up treatments. She is full of praise of Dr Lai for his warmth for taking the extra step to patiently explain to her on things to note for her diet.
“Dr Lai is like a friend that I can confide in and the volunteers here are also very friendly,” said Mdm Feng. After a month or so of treatments, she does not panted while going up the stairs anymore and in appreciation gave a set of limited coin collection that was a gift by her uncle to Dr Lai.
Thanks to the mutual trust, warmth and gratitude between the medical team and patients, the residents are willing to come for treatments, and the medical team is more than happy to dedicate their time to volunteering.
When pharmacist Lock Meng Swee heard from his friend that a free clinic in Redhill will soon provide free TCM services, he decided to find out more and was happy to discover that what his friend meant was the free clinic ran by Tzu Chi Singapore, which he had already joined as a volunteer.
Back when he was younger, there was once a time where Brother Lock experienced financial difficulties and had to seek treatments for migraines at the same time. Hence, he understands the importance of healthcare services to the poor. It was only when he was 64 whereby his children have grown up and his financial situation has improved that he gets to attend TCM courses and lessons. After attending courses on saunas and Chinese herbs, he was better equipped and has the opportunity to volunteer as a pharmacist.
Currently 75 years old, Brother Lock is volunteering twice a week at the Free Clinic. "If it wasn't for my computer lessons, I'd love to come everyday!" he quipped.
Giving back to the community and promoting health
On the launching day, the TCM team was present to address the enquiries of the residents.
Ms Chen Ying Ying has specially brought her two daughters from Choa Chu Kang to attend the free consultations. She feels that TCM is gentler on one’s body and has lesser side effects. Consuming the herbal medicines has also made her children healthier as a whole, since TCM addresses both the symptoms and roots of the sickness.
Mr Sha Filqul, a Malay worker in his 20s, has been working in Singapore for two years. Although he has been experiencing pain on his necks, he dare not seek treatments as basic scans in hospital coupled with checkups and treatment could easily fetch up to hundreds of dollars, which is clearly unaffordable to him for having a pay of S$650 only.
Mr Filqul was seeking Western medicine treatments at the Free Clinic but the doctors felt that TCM is better for his illness and thus referred him to the TCM department. After learning that successive acupuncture treatments will help alleviate the injuries he sustained while working, the worker's locked eyebrows finally showed some relaxation.
The Tzu Chi Free Clinic has been in operation since August 2004 at Chinatown before shifting to Redhill on November 2008. By gathering the love in the society and creating blessings for the poor and disadvantaged, the Free Clinic has been upholding the principles of “Safeguarding Lives and Being Patient-Oriented” as advocated by Master Cheng Yen, founder of Tzu Chi Foundation.
The Free Clinic operates from 9.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 5.30pm on Monday to Friday, and 9am to 12:30pm on Sunday. The premise is closed on Saturday and public holidays. All are welcome to call the number 64758812 for appointment and enquiries during working hours from Monday to Friday.