‘I can’t change the locks, I can’t tie him at home’: Families of home recovery patients who refuse to stay put

Singaporeans share their difficulties in getting their elderly parents to stay in their rooms.

Low Jia Ying | September 23, 2021, 12:32 PM

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Starting from Sep. 18, the Ministry of Health (MOH) expanded its home recovery scheme to include Covid-19 patients of up to 69 years old, but the experience has been anything but smooth-sailing for some.

Two adult children shared with Mothership their frustrations trying to get their elderly parents to comply with home recovery instructions, to little avail.

Previously, only those between the ages of 12 and 50 would be eligible for home recovery as the default protocol for fully vaccinated individuals who test positive for the virus.

Although these individuals' parents meet the criteria for home recovery for the most part, ensuring that they stay in their rooms has been nearly impossible.

Reported her father's errant behaviour to MOH, but met with delayed responses

For personal assistant CK, trying to keep her Covid-19-positive father inside the master bedroom of her flat has left her at her wit's end.

Her father, 68, had tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday (Sep. 19) after exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and was told to quarantine in his room for home recovery.

However, in the four days that have passed since then, her father has repeatedly left his room and apartment to go on walks along their shared corridor and in the neighbourhood.

"I found out that he actually went out for breakfast early in the morning on Monday," CK, who is in her 30s, shared.

Concerned that her elderly father, who had an underlying heart condition, would be susceptible to further illness, CK reached out to MOH on the first day of his home recovery to request that her father be sent to a Community Care Facility (CCF) instead.

She also relayed to MOH that her home was not ideal for home recovery.

Apart from the master bedroom, the other beds in the flat are only single beds, which CK and her sibling sleep on. This meant that her mother could only sleep in the hall as the master bedroom was used as her father's home recovery room.

MOH told CK that they would consider her case and to wait for another call from them.

Unsupervised, father insists on leaving the house

Her father, who "doesn't like to sit in one place for too long", has also been roaming around their home, according to CK.

When CK and her other family members came back home from a clinic to do their polymerase chain reaction PCR tests as instructed by MOH, she noticed her plants outside had been watered, and deduced that her father had once again stepped out of the flat.

Frustrated that her attempts to both scold and convince her father that his behaviour put others and his elderly wife at risk were not working, she called MOH once again to take her father into a CCF where he would be monitored.

She said in exasperation:

"There's only this much I can do because I can’t change the locks, I can’t tie him at home.

I’m really stuck, the only thing I can do is to get MOH to put him in a [CCF]."

However, she said that till date, no one has updated her on her father's application to be put in a CCF, or come to check that he has remained at home.

Frustrated at the lack of response from authorities

CK shared that she has now called MOH four times, Certis Cisco, who helps with quarantine orders, once, but has not been told what to do about her father.

Reaching out to her Member of Parliament Josephine Teo has also been futile, she claimed.

She feels the burden of having to ensure that her father stays home:

"It’s now up to our own individual responsibility. If I'm responsible, I will stay at home strictly within my own area.

But if there are people like my father, who are not going to take instructions seriously, who can control them?"

In one of her calls to MOH, the ministry told her to call the police on her father, but this, CK said, is a step too far:

"I don’t want him to get arrested, I just want him to be confined in the [CCF] so that he doesn't spread the virus to anybody."

CK understands that her father is going through some shock over learning that he tested positive for Covid-19, and has refused to give up his daily routine of going for walks to retain his sense of sanity. She adds:

"It’s very frustrating because we know how serious this can be."

Father routinely left his room

29-year-old L, who declined to give his full name, said that although his father did not leave the house, it was difficult trying to keep him in his own room.

L's father, 68, who is also fully vaccinated, came down with a fever and later tested positive for Covid-19 on Sep. 7.

He was instructed to quarantine in his own room following his positive result.

The next day, a telemedicine doctor assessed his father fit for home recovery and told him to isolate in his own room.

However, L's father did not take the quarantine instructions to heart and was walking around the house conducting his daily activities.

L shared how his father tried to rationalise leaving the room:

"He kept saying he has to do laundry, he needs to get water, eat his vitamins, get food.

He kept trying to rationalise that him staying in his room is not a foolproof method of preventing contact with the rest of the family members."

L's father pointed out that his family members would come into contact with his used cups and cutlery after he was done eating if he were to isolate in his room anyways.

Tried to set house rules for his father

His father would routinely go into the kitchen and the common areas of the house which other family members were still using.

"The most difficult part of this whole experience was trying to get my dad to play his part for the house," L said.

The family members were electronically tagged a day after they were served their quarantine order to ensure that they would not leave the house, but there was no other enforcement to ensure that L's father did not leave his room.

CK's family, however, has not been electronically tagged.

L tried to get his father to compromise by adhering to some house rules:

"I told my dad that there has to be certain hours that you must confine, then at least, the rest of us can carry out the activities that we want to do."

After sitting his father down and telling him that his actions put his other family members at risk, did L's father eventually cooperate.

Conflicting instructions from MOH and Certis Cisco

However, this was not the end of L's troubles.

A mere four hours after the telemedicine doctor first assessed his father fit for home recovery, an officer showed up at his door at 10pm the same day and told him they would be sending his dad to a CCF.

“This put the whole household in confusion mode,” said L, who elaborated that no one informed the family that someone would be coming to pick him up.

L also bemoaned the difficulties in knowing which relevant authority was the appropriate point of contact.

"[MOH and Certis Cisco] kept telling me to call other numbers, saying that they didn't have my updated information.

I was also told that I would have a quarantine officer assigned to me, but I never received any contact details."

L said that there was little coordination between MOH and the various third parties that they engaged to carry out the swabbing and electronic tagging, as well as between telemedicine doctors and Certis Cisco officers.

"It was a huge challenge to coordinate all the final instructions from the relevant parties," L said.

MOH's response

In response to media queries, MOH said that ground operations are "much strained", adding that home recovery accounts for up to 40 per cent of cases every day.

The ministry also acknowledged the issues members of the public have experienced in reaching MOH.

"The surge in cases has caused delays and we seek your patience and understanding. We are streamlining our operations and will get to you as soon as possible," they said.

In the meantime, MOH said that Covid-19 patients should isolate in their rooms, "preferably" with an attached toilet, and to wear a mask if they have to come out of the room.

They are also instructed to call a telemedicine provider if they are feeling unwell.

If the Covid-19 patient needs to step out of their rooms to do tasks like collecting meals, changing laundry, or clearing trash, MOH recommends that the patient ensure no one is near the doorway of the room when they step out.

They are also instructed to put on a surgical mask before opening the door, quickly complete the task before returning to their room.

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Top photo by Jason Fan