A Chat with Margaret Lee
CEO, SingHealth Community Hospitals (SCH)
1. What was your earliest exposure to the Community Care sector?
My interest in Community Care started from a very young age. During my school days, I volunteered at nursing homes like Villa Francis as part of my Community Involvement Programme (CIP) and CCA (Red Cross). My family was very active in our church, and we supported a lot of its activities such as helping the disadvantaged in the community. In a way, it helps to make you appreciate what you have and how you can help others.
2. Could you share with us why you decided to join the Community Care sector?
Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of work experience in Community Care until I joined the SingHealth Regional Health System unit in October 2015. I am an accountant by training and worked for audit firm, KPMG. About 20 years ago, I decided to join healthcare as it is a “people” sector and I saw growth opportunities in this sunrise industry. I joined National University Hospital (NUH) and worked in the finance department for 12 years. Beyond managing budgets, I did my best to find various ways to support patients who had difficulties in paying their bills.
In the early 2000s, I was looking at the way MOH was developing the healthcare sector and I thought to myself that it would be meaningful if I can work in a Community Hospital at some point in my career. I then joined NUHS, delving into work related to tertiary hospitals and academic medicine. The opportunity to work in Community Hospitals only came when I joined SingHealth in 2015. They were looking at how to grow the Regional Health System, and finding a way to better organise its Community Hospitals so that they can provide better care and services for patients.
I think that Community Hospitals are quite different from Acute Hospitals. Community Hospitals are very “high-touch” and we have more time to spend with patients to support them in their recovery. So when the opportunity came to lead SCH, I thought, “Why not?” I feel that this is an area that has a lot of potential for growth and innovation to further improve patient care.
3. Can you tell us more about SCH and some of your plans/directions for the organisation?
The SCH core team came together in August 2016 to manage the three Community Hospitals under the SingHealth cluster – Bright Vision Hospital, Sengkang Community Hospital (ready by 2018) and Outram Community Hospital (ready by 2020). By bringing the Community Hospitals together under one central management team, we can reap economies of scale and bring down the cost of delivering care. Staff will have greater career progression as they can try various roles across all three Hospitals. We will also have the unique opportunity of giving patients the choice to go to any of the three Community Hospitals depending on where they live.
In the Community Hospital setting, our focus is for patients to get well and re-adjust back to home living. So what we want to do is to create a home-like environment and encourage patients to take part in their care. For example, during mealtimes, they are encouraged to eat together at the dining area. For patients who have difficulties showering or doing their daily tasks, we want them to be able to slowly do it themselves.
We will also work out a personalised care plan, where rehabilitation therapists assess patients’ abilities and how much they can improve. It’s a participative and unhurried kind of care as patients need time to get well. Patients may also need support from other Community Care partners after going home, and our role is to link them up to ensure that they get the continued care that they need in the community.
4. Do you have a memorable Community Care experience of your own to share?
Many years back, my mother-in-law was recovering from a stroke at St Luke’s Hospital. I felt that the environment was very calm and peaceful. The staff were there to enable the patients to get well. It was a very positive experience for us. Although she wasn’t able to recover to her full functional state before the stroke, she improved quite significantly. I realised that an important aspect of community care is for patients and their caregivers to feel that the care is unhurried and participative. That is why I think Community Hospitals play a very meaningful role in this continuum of care.
5. Who or what is your biggest motivation in life and work?
My biggest motivation is my family. They have always been my source of strength. I also feel very strongly about making a difference through my work. Together with the SCH team, I hope that we can make a transformative change to the care provided by Community Hospitals, be it in the way we deliver care, provide career opportunities for staff, connect with the community or raise standards of care. At the end of the day, whatever we do, it’s all for our patients. With this is mind, we will always find new ways to make things better for them.