Being diagnosed with a novel infection is frightening for anyone. This feeling was heightened among many of the migrant workers who were cared for by SingHealth’s healthcare professionals.
“Being on the ground, we realised that the fear and anxiety that they were facing as a result of their illnesses was heightened by the language constraints. This adversely impacted their mental wellbeing,” said Dr Lee Guozhang, a consultant with the Department of Internal Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
Seeing the migrant workers’ distress prompted Lee and a multidisciplinary team of healthcare workers to develop a series of initiatives that would help their patients to cope with their isolation and illnesses.
“The resources created were targeted as a way to increase self-efficacy and give them a sense of control in a very disempowering environment,” said Evelyn Boon, SGH’s Head of Psychology. The multidisciplinary team had to ensure that their activities and resources could overcome the language barriers that many migrant workers face.
Among the initiatives rolled out by SingHealth institutions were virtual multilingual patient support group sessions, regular phone calls, exercise and dance activities as well as art therapy resources to keep the migrant workers engaged.
“I would look forward to the daily exercises led by the Temi robot. It helped me to stay active and kept me occupied while I was at the hospital,” said Khan Mohammed Nadim, a 47-year-old migrant worker in the construction sector who was warded at Sengkang Community Hospital.
The teams also created educational resources that helped migrant workers to understand their conditions and make communicating their needs easier.
Reflecting on the multilingual patient support group sessions held at SGH, Lee said that anecdotal feedback showed that migrant workers valued such opportunities.
“It was also through these sessions that certain specific needs were identified,” said Lee, citing money remittance as a key concern that the migrant workers had.
“They faced issues with remitting money back home to their families as they were used to doing it physically at various remittance facilities, which led our team to assist in alternative ways,” he added.
A communication aid developed by Sengkang Community Hospital to help migrant workers convey their feelings and needs // Credit: Sengkang General Hospital
Caring for body and mind in migrant worker dormitories
SingHealth’s healthcare professionals took a similar approach at 15 migrant worker dormitories where they provided primary care services and COVID-19 screening. Forming a Holistic response and Outreach Team, the team started by gathering feedback from anxious migrant workers to better understand how to meet their needs.
“The concerns raised by the migrant workers differ from dorm to dorm,” said Dr Dennis Chia, a consultant with the Department of Emergency Medicine at Sengkang General Hospital, but their assessment found common themes. Fear of contracting COVID-19 and its immediate health and financial and social implications were common as well as cabin fever and being unable to return home to provide for their families.
While the Forward Assurance and Support Teams, which were mobilised by the government, provided daily necessities, the SingHealth team realised that they could extend their care to help to address the psychosocial aspects of prolonged isolation. They worked closely with volunteers and non-governmental organisations to support the workers’ needs and to connect them to community resources, including English online courses as well as online yoga classes.
“At the very least, we were able to provide the migrant workers with an outlet for them to share their fears, clarify their doubts and ask for help via an interviewer who was a native speaker of their language,” said Chia.
Dr Dennis Chia was among a group of healthcare professionals from SingHealth institutions deployed to provide primary care and COVID-19 testing at dormitories // Credit: Sengkang General Hospital