Nursing homes in Johor Bahru – revisited

The following are three reports from the Straits Times (2009) and from Today (2006) reporting Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s remarks about cheaper nursing homes which Singaporeans can go to, in neighbouring countries, and the exchange in Parliament on 10 Feb, 2009, between Mr Khaw and Workers’ Party MPs, Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim.

In 2009:

Straits Times, Feb 10:

SINGAPOREANS could consider living in nursing homes in neighbouring Johor Baru, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan suggested yesterday.

It would be cheaper, yet be near enough to Singapore for family members to visit and for residents to return for medical care if necessary, he said.

He told Parliament yesterday that he recently visited a site in Johor Baru where a Singaporean investor was planning to build a 200-bed nursing home.

He asked the investor about the costs involved, and was stunned at how low they were.

He said: ‘It is mind-boggling. The cost of land and construction cost is so low that my cost of putting up just a polyclinic (in Singapore) is probably more than his cost of putting up a 200-bed nursing home (in Johor Baru).

‘The monthly cost of keeping a resident in a private nursing home in Singapore, you can stretch it easily to pay at least 2-1/2 months of nursing home care in Johor Baru.’

If any medical problems cropped up, the elderly could be taken back to Singapore by ambulance, he said.

For most Singaporeans, visiting a relative in a Johor Baru nursing home would not pose significant difficulties, he said.

The investor, who is a nursing home chief executive, told him that many people visited their relatives weekly, even in nursing homes in Singapore.

Mr Khaw added: ‘Of course many visit daily, but quite a significant number visit only during the weekends, so what is the difference in putting them in Johor Baru?’


In 2006

Today, April 22

Dumping parents worst sin, says Khaw

Minister clarifies comments made on creating retirement homes in nearby countries

HIS recent comments on creating retirement villages in neighbouring countries have caused a mini-controversy, but Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said he was misquoted.

“My comment on retirement was completely incidental. Now it has blown up into a big story and there is so much misunderstanding and accusation (that) Khaw Boon Wan is proposing that we dump our parents
in Batam,” said Mr Khaw after an event on Friday.

He was referring to an interview done with MediaCorp’s Channel 8 this week, in which he was quoted as saying: “My personal view is, our land is expensive. But we have nearby neighbours in Johor, Batam and
Bintan. The elderly want to reach their doctors within half to one hour. So retirement villages in neighbouring countries is possible, barring the cross-border hassle. It is best to find cheap land on
short leases.”

This sparked a mini-debate, with readers cautioning against the “exile” or “banishment” of old folks away from their homeland and the implications of such a move.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Mr Khaw said his proposal has been misunderstood to mean that Singaporeans “dump” their parents in nearby countries.

“The question (from the reporter) was that there were developers who said that land here is rather expensive,” he clarified. “And that’s why I notice that Minister Mah Bow Tan has now shortened the lease, so hopefully land price (in Singapore) will become cheaper. But then they (the developers) said all right, Batam is even cheaper. So I said well, if Batam is even cheaper, then it’s up to you.”

Hence, the decision to locate retirement villages outside of Singapore is up to the private developers and the market — not the Government, he said.

But no matter where the villages are, Singaporeans should not neglect the old, said Mr Khaw.

“You can have a retirement village in Toa Payoh but if your motive is really to dump your parents, that to me is wrong. Whether it’s in Batam or in Toa Payoh or in Ang Mo Kio, it’s all wrong.

Mr Khaw, a Buddhist who comes from a “absolutely Confucianist” background, said to him, not being filial is the worst sin possible.

“Many other sins you can plead to your God and say, sorry, I repent … But lack of filial piety, dumping your parents is inexcusable. Straight down to the 18th level of hell!”




Response from the Workers’ Party MPs – Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim (Straits Times, Feb 10)

A SUGGESTION by Health Minister that Singaporeans might want to consider staying at a nursing home across the Causeway in Johor where it is much cheaper drew flak from two oppostion MPs in Parliament on Tuesday.

Workers’ Party chairman and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim said the suggestion was ‘quite a bad indication of affordability of our own health care services here, and also a reflection of our national values’.

Fellow WP member Low Thia Kiang (Hougang) asked: ‘Is the Minister suggesting that Singaporeans who cannot afford medical treatment or step-down care here should now consider such facilities in Johor?’

If so, is the minister ‘outsourcing the Government’s responsibility to provide affordable health care service to Malaysia’, he asked.

This riled Mr Khaw Boon Wan.

‘I’m not saying that if you are poor I will put you in an ambulance, send you across the Causeway to a Johor nursing home. That is not what I said and please don’t twist my words,’ he retorted.

In fact, the Johor option is not for the poor, who are heavily subsidised in Singapore.

‘Everybody can afford health care in Singapore whether acute care or long-term care,’ said Mr Khaw.

The suggestion was aimed at middle-income families who need to pay for the care themselves. It gives them choice.

‘I just wanted to point out to Singaporeans that there are options like this,’ Mr Khaw said.

The cost of nursing home care will always be more expensive in Singapore, as doctors and nurses are paid more, and construction cost is also higher.

Since many people visit the elderly in homes only on weekends, it makes little difference whether the person is housed here or in nearby Johor.

It’s part of globalisation and this is already happening with Singaporeans going to Bangkok for Lasik to treat short sightedness and Americans and Russians coming here for treatment.

It is also not something that should, or can, be prevented, said the minister.

Singaporeans are already crossing the causeway for cheaper petrol and medicine.

‘By allowing the flexibility of consumers walking across the Causeway… they benefit. I don’t think we should constrain them from doing so.’


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