Alan Yong: A Day in the Life of a Social Worker

In a photo from before COVID-19, Alan (left) chats with a client to find out his needs.

Did you know that NTUC Health has 17 social workers supporting some 500 plus seniors in our community? Our social workers mostly have a specialised diploma in social work with seniors, with some moving on to acquire a degree. This month, we dive into the work of NTUC Health’s social workers through an exclusive interview with Mr Alan Yong, Care Manager from Senior Cluster Network!

Based at our Cluster Support (Bukit Merah) office, Alan shares how he serves clients staying in the Jalan Bukit Merah, Telok Blangah, Redhill and Tiong Bahru area. “Our working environment is unique as we are serving different clients presenting different needs every day, hence our routines change to meet these challenges.”

Before COVID-19, the weekly schedule of Care Managers like Alan typically comprises 10 to 15 home visitations. Said Alan, “Each visit lasts between 30 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the needs of the client. My clients are usually aged 60 and above, and have been referred to NTUC Health Cluster Support by hospitals or by their GRCs due to social or health issues arising from conditions like mental illness, disability or poor physical health. Most of the time it is because they are unable to care for themselves, and have little to no family support.”

Alan giving out National Day fun packs to residents of Henderson Home.

During the visit, Alan thoroughly assesses the seniors and their situation, gathering information relevant to their physical, social and psychological needs to see how we can help make their lives better. “I had a case in which a senior reported that she was being abused by her daughter. I immediately made an appointment with her to understand her situation, and linked her with staff from our Senior Activity Centre (SAC) to help monitor her situation. As the SAC is located just below her block, the staff were able to monitor her situation on a day to day basis and keep me updated. I also gave suggestions on how she can avoid conflicts with her daughter and shared with her what to do if the abuse continues.”

After the visits, Alan returns to his office to put together a care plan for the client, liaising with community partners and service providers to chip in with their support. While some are straightforward cases with quick applications to services, others require a social report to appeal for subsidised payments or services. “For example, some seniors are still unable to afford the payment for Home Care services even after subsidies. This is where I step in to help appeal for the fees to be waived. In another case, a senior had well-to-do children, which made him ineligible for any support. The children however did not support the senior, and I had to submit a social report to Meals-on-Wheels for the senior to receive food.”

“When I first joined, I followed my colleague for a visitation in which the client had many issues, such as health conditions, rat infestation and social isolation. We then had a meeting with partners such as Town Council, HDB, and National Environment Agency and personally worked to declutter the client’s house, while linking the client up with relevant professionals to improve the situation. Watching my colleague coordinate the entire process, the experience really opened my eyes to how much a difference a social worker can make.”

On some days, Alan also brings his clients for medical appointments. These are usually for clients who have just been discharged from hospital and need to return to follow up. There are also clients who simply choose to default on their appointments as they are impatient and do not wish to wait a long time in the hospital. “I have to accompany them and share with them the hospital’s procedures while seeking their patience.” Others are clients with terminal illness, and want Alan there for emotional support. “While there, I also check with the doctor what I can do to provide better care for the client.”

Alan on his way to visit a senior client during pre-COVID-19 times.

The Care Managers all have additional roles, such as managing CAN (Caring Assistance from Neighbours) Carer volunteers, or facilitating additional programmes for the seniors. For Alan, he concurrently serves as a care coordinator for Henderson Home, handling administrative work and caring for the needs of the residents.

I have built up rapport with most of the residents here. As I see them daily, I will encourage them to attend activities at the Senior Activity Centre, or help remind them to take medication. Most of the time, I am there to provide a listening ear to them.

With the current COVID-19 situation, social workers like Alan are encouraged to call clients up instead of making home visits except for those seniors who are deemed to be particularly vulnerable and at high risk of deterioration. During this time, Alan also works with our team at Henderson Home to ensure the safety of the residents there. For instance, he has undergone training to do swab tests, and is able to help swab residents if needed. With the direction to digitise all hardcopy data, Alan has also been using this time to key in client details into the Bumblebee database.

On a typical day, Alan usually knocks off at around 7pm. Upon reaching home, Alan unwinds with a hot shower to relieve the fatigue from the day. Alan shared that he is especially emotional when it comes to seniors who are also caregivers themselves. “My heart goes out to seniors who have to care for their spouse or children who are not able to live independently. Most of them are facing multiple challenges, but still worry for their loved ones and find ways to continue living.” Seeing such strength in his clients keeps Alan motivated to continue giving his best.

Over the years, we have noticed that seniors are more able to get the assistance they need. However, there is still much to be done, and we will keep working to improve their well-being.