Abandoned and pining for family

by GAN PEI LING and LOH FOON FONG © The Star 22 May 2017

Good Samaritan: Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre founder Cheong Loy checking on a senior citizen at the premises in Jalan Dewan Bahasa, Kuala Lumpur. The coffinmaker who runs the funeral parlour at the Kwong Tong Cemetery in Sg Besi started taking in abandoned elderly folk more than a decade ago.

EXCLUSIVE: KUALA LUMPUR: At first sight, it seems like most of them were just waiting to die.

The “normal” ones wear a forlorn look while those with mental illness stare into space.

These are the unwanted – senior citizens sent to old folks’ homes after being discharged from hospitals as their families do not want to take them home.

Most of the 50 residents at Al-Ikhlas Old Folks Care and Treat­ment Home at Kampung Pulau Meranti, Puchong, are bedridden.

They live with medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Sixteen caretakers look after them – feeding and bathing those with serious physical disabilities.

Former lorry driver Abu Abdul Talib, 52, lost the use of his right leg after being involved in a traffic accident in Singapore three or four years ago.

Resigned: Bored residents just sitting around at Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre in Salak Selatan.

He was sent here from Hospital Kuala Lumpur as his family in Teluk Intan, Perak, could not take care of him.

A dark mood descended over Abu as he spoke about his family, who visit him irregularly.

“I have four children, three are still in school and one is working. My wife works as a babysitter to support the family,” said Abu.

Aladib Abdullah, 74, from George Town, Penang, broke down during the interview.

He is no longer on good terms with his ex-wife while his son and daughter take turns to visit him.

“I’m losing my memory. I cannot remember many things. I miss my friends. Please come and visit me.

“We’re suffering not because we don’t have food or drinks. There’s something we miss in life,” said the former employee of an English daily.

Better than hospital: A resident napping at Al-Ikhlas Old Folks Care and Treatment Home.

The mood is lighter at Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre, where more residents are able to take care of themselves, at least partially.

Former butcher Hoo Chin Chan, 78, has been living at the centre in Jalan Dewan Bahasa for 11 years. This was after being discharged from UKM Medical Centre.

He was hospitalised for two to three months after a foot surgery and relies on a walking frame to get around now.

Hoo still visits the hospital for high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol checks. He has siblings but was not keen to talk about them.

“What more do you want to ask?” he said impatiently when asked more about his family history.

He only lightened up when the topic was switched to the living conditions at the centre, one floor above a funeral parlour.

“There’s nothing to complain. We’re given three meals a day and those who are fit can go out to buy food,” he said.

Hoo speaking at the Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre.

Volunteers would take the residents out to restaurants for their birthdays.

The centre also hires a driver to take the residents to hospitals for check-ups and they get RM50 each a month as pocket money.

Voluntary Chinese medicine practitioners take turns to check on the residents every week.

“It’s better than staying in the hospital,” said Ng Thiam Hock, 59, who lives at Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre’s second home, a two-storey house at Kampung Baru Salak Selatan.

After recovering from tuberculosis in 2015, Ng was sent from the Selayang Hospital to an old folks home in Seremban before being transferred thanks to a friend’s referral.

“I have four siblings but they have their own families, so I don’t want to bother them,” said the former construction worker.

“It’s better than when I was working and living alone. Most of us become friends after living here for a while.

“We cook and clean after ourselves. The volunteers help us with more difficult chores like cleaning the windows and changing the curtains,” he added.

Making room for unwanted parents…

by GAN PEI LING and LOH FOON FONG © The Star 22 May 2017

Restaurant owner Muji Sulaiman, 57, is another person who runs a home, entirely at her own expense.

KUALA LUMPUR: “Why don’t you just die? You are such a burden!”

This is among the hurtful things children say to their parents before abandoning them. And Cheong Loy has heard them all.

Cheong is the founder of Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre in Jalan Dewan Bahasa. He says many parents are emotionally affected by the insults thrown at them by the children.

“Some will feel sad for a few days but will accept reality after about a week as other residents will also console them,” he said.

However, not all can cope with abandonment.

“We once had a lady who boasted about her son who worked as a chef. One day, he came and scolded her in front of everyone.

“I think that broke her heart. She died about two months after that,” he recounted.

Cheong began allowing former hospital patients to live on the floor above his funeral parlour at Kwong Tong Cemetery in 1999.

“Many of these people were not abandoned by their families. They just needed a place close to the hospital. Their children would visit often.

“Then, word spread about this place and those who had nowhere to go started living here. One lady started to cook for them. She has died, too,” Cheong recalled.

The number of residents has grown from seven to about 30 now.

Cheong hires two Indonesian maids to take care of the residents and a driver to take them to hospitals for check-ups.

“For those with family members, we will always try our best to send them back and advise their families to take care of them, but most just send them back to us,” he added.

In 2004, Cheong bought a piece of land at Kampung Baru Salak Selatan to provide a permanent and secure living space for the residents.

“I plan to move the residents to the Chinese new village eventually,” said Cheong, who does not accept cash donations from the public.

“I’ll only accept what we need. We donate the rest to single mothers or sell them if people donate without checking with us first,” said Cheong.

Restaurant owner Muji Sulaiman, 57, (pic) is another person who runs a home, entirely at her own expense.

For more than a decade, she has been taking in former hospital patients neglected or abandoned by their families, and looking after them until their deaths.

“If you don’t have the capability, don’t open a charity home,” said the former nurse sternly.

Muji set up Al-Ikhlas Old Folks Care and Treatment Home at a former surau in Kampung Pulau Meranti, Puchong, in 2003.

It is now home to 50 senior citizens, and Muji bears the monthly operational cost of RM50,000, including the salaries of 16 full-time caretakers.

“Some of their families found it too troublesome to look after them due to their medical condition. I had a lady who was left at the home’s doorstep.

“There are some who come in luxury cars to attend their parents’ funeral after their deaths. So, it’s not that they cannot afford it. They just don’t want to look after their own parents,” said the single mother of three.

…dumped when they are in need with nothing else to give

by GAN PEI LING and LOH FOON FONG © The Star 22 May 2017

PETALING JAYA: Kak Tijah* spent her entire retirement savings on her son’s wedding. When she fell ill, she was penniless. The son – and his wife – abandoned the older woman.

Susan* lent her life savings to her eldest child for business. She fell ill and was left in the hospital with no one to pay the bill.

These are just two of the many heartbreaking cases public hospitals have to deal with when family members refuse to take their now bedridden parents home.

“Some children genuinely cannot afford it but some are just irresponsible, and siblings push the responsibility to one another,” said a source from a public hospital.

The source said the hospital’s social work department has to deal with at least two such cases of unclaimed Malaysian patients every week.

Unclaimed foreign patients are dealt with by the hospital’s public relations department.

The source added that it is important for ready-to-be-discharged patients, especially those in emergency wards, to make way for new patients who need the beds more.

“If a Malaysian patient is sent in by a member of the public, and the doctors or nurses notice that nobody comes to visit them, the Social Welfare Department will try to locate their family members.

“If they have no documents, we will get help from the National Registration Department.

“If the family members cannot be traced or are not responsive, we’ll try to find friends, or a nursing home as a last resort,” the source said.

The abandoned are of any age – the youngest are babies and the oldest are in their 70s.

Most common cases are senior citizens in their 60s, who have medical conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s or physical disabilities due to accidents, stroke or other serious illnesses.

“Although they are ready to be discharged from hospital, most could still be physically or mentally ill, requiring extra care at home and periodic visits to the hospital.

“When they aren’t properly taken care of at home, they get sent back to the hospitals earlier than their scheduled appointments,” the source explained.

In such cases, the hospital’s social workers will try to counsel the family members to take better care of the patients and check if there are any issues at home.

However, if nobody comes forward to claim the patients, they will be sent to public or private nursing homes.

“The Welfare Department has a home for the end-life stage at Kuala Kubu Baru, but it is usually full.

“There are three to four charity homes we can send them to but these are always full too,” the source said.

(* not their real names)

Seven-year-old wonder kid

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 8 May 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: She could not hold a pencil and does not like wri­ting much.

Yet, Madhu Barghavi Vijaya­ku­mar has written her first children’s book at the age of seven.

Diagnosed with autism two years ago, the girl has become an inspiration for families with autistic children.

The launch of her 24-page book titled The Golden Parrot and the Magic Teapot attracted almost a full house at the auditorium of the National Museum yesterday.

A nervous Barghavi read out on stage one of her two short stories in the book, accompanied by her mother Jegadeswari Krishnan.

“It’s amazing she has come this far, a girl who earlier didn’t want to read and write or hold a pencil,” said her personal tutor Mahalet­chumi Tavamany, 37.

Just three years ago, Barghavi had poor motor skills and Mahalet­chumi had to train her to work with clay, marbles and play dough to strengthen her grip.

“Even now, she still doesn’t like writing that much.

“She prefers activities like liste­ning to people read books,” said the special education teacher.

Mahaletchumi has been spen­ding an hour to tutor Barghavi weekly since 2014.

Jegadeswari said the idea of the first story about the golden parrot in the book came to Barghavi last year when her school teacher gave her an empty booklet to write a story.

“The booklet only had illustrations as she hates writing but she repeated the story to me a few times so I encouraged her to write it,” she said.

“It took her a few weeks and immediately after that, she came up with the second story on the magic teapot.”

Jegadeswari, who wanted to nurture the author in her daughter, then found a family who offered to sponsor the publication cost.

Priced at RM28.90 and published by Rakyat Media Industries, proceeds from the book sale will go to non-profit organisation Love Au­tism Society of Malaysia (Per­sama).

Persama patron Tan Sri Dr M. Kayveas, Persama founder Thila Laxshman, and director of a film on autism Redha, Tunku Mona Riza were also present yesterday.

“Don’t mould your child. What I did was accepting her as she was and try to encourage and empower her in the face of adver­sity.

“I don’t see raising her as a challenge but an experience.

“I didn’t try to change anything in her and she has grown on her own,” Jegadeswari said.

Going for safer roads and steady loads

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 29 April 2017

BENTONG: The Government will go all out to promote a safety culture among heavy vehicle operators, including express buses and lorries, said Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

“We’ve completed the Express Bus Transformation Lab on April 7 and will present the lab results to the Cabinet in a week or so.

“The Cabinet will be briefed on the mitigation efforts to ensure we’ll be able to reduce the impact of express bus accidents,” Liow said after visiting the Bentong Gallery yesterday.

The bus lab was set up in January to study ways to improve the quality of service, safety and sustainability of the bus industry by gathering opinions from all stakeholders, including the public.

Liow said the lab was set up in response to a deadly bus crash in Pagoh in December last year which claimed 14 lives and injured 16, and the Genting bus crash in July last year which killed the driver and injured 15 passengers.

“One of the reasons we found is fatigue of bus drivers who often work long hours for five days without sufficient rest.

“We need to be able to better monitor driver performance, including lorry drivers, to ensure they perform up to the standards required of them,” he said.

He said the Transport Ministry was also in the midst of implementing 51 recommendations by a special panel led by safety advocate Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye after the deadly bus crashes last year.

The recommendations include installing a speedometer on express buses to limit their speed and a speed retarder on lorries to reduce the impact should they get into accidents.

“I’ve set up a special review committee to ensure these recommendations are implemented effectively,” Liow added.

When asked if the Government would consider setting up a similar laboratory for lorries, Liow said the challenges faced by the lorry fraternity was different.

“Not at the moment. I think we’ve enough measures and laws to regulate lorry drivers,” he said.

He attributed the main cause of accidents involving lorries to illegal retread tyres and their debris on highways.

“We’ll monitor the production of retread tyres to ensure they adhere to Sirim standards. Stern action will be taken against factories which do not adhere to the standards,” he said.

On top of that, he said the Government would actively conduct health checks on lorry drivers to ensure they were healthy and not on drugs.

“Enforcement alone is not enough. We need public awareness and participation. Every individual needs to be alert and take precautionary measures to prevent accidents,” he said.

Liow, the MP for Bentong, also attended the groundbreaking ceremony of a new hall for the Leong Guang Cemetery here.

Also present were Pahang MCA chairman Datuk Hoh Khai Mun and Bentong Chinese Town Hall president Datuk Low Long Yang.

He also visited and gave donations to victims of a Wednesday fire that affected four homes in Taman Desa Damai.

Danger of retreaded tyres

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 17 April 2017

PETALING JAYA: Illegally retreaded tyres are putting the lives of road users at stake, so much so that even transport and tyre associations have called for a clampdown on shady retreaders.

An average of two accidents happen daily due to tyre combustion or tyre debris on the road. PLUS Malaysia Bhd recorded 613 road accidents last year on the expressway due to these factors.

Heavy vehicles tend to go for retreaded tyres for the obvious reason.

“A retreaded tyre is usually 50% cheaper than a new tyre,” said Pan Malaysia Bus Operators Association president Datuk Mohamad Ashfar Ali.

Stressing that his members would not buy uncertified retreaded tyres, he said the low quality of some of these illegally tyres could cause them to explode while the vehicle was moving.

These tyres might burst due to overloading, casing, or that the rubber and the glue used on the tyres were below par.

“The tyre is the only contact point between the road and the vehicle. So, it must be able to withstand the heat, the high speed the vehicle is travelling in and the load of the vehicle,” he said.

As such, he said, express buses on long journeys would be fitted with new tyres while normal buses that travel short distances would be installed with retreaded tyres at the back wheel.

Such tyres must come only from certified manufacturers, he said, adding that a tyre should ideally be retreaded only once.

Mohamad Ashfar urged the authorities to crack down harder on illegally retreaded tyre manufacturers.

Pan Malaysia Lorry Owners Association president Jong Foh Jit acknowledged that it was common for lorries to use retreaded tyres as they were cheaper.

“But they must ensure the tyres are certified by Sirim,” he said.

“Some people are tempted to go for cheaper, illegally retreaded tyres due to the economic slowdown, but they may endanger themselves and other road users,” he added.

Jong said some lorry operators would retread a tyre two to three times.

Tyre Retreading Manufacturers Association of Malaysia said it was high time the authorities clamped down on unscrupulous tyre retreaders.

The move would force retreaders to get the Sirim certification and start complying with government standards, association president Chin Hong Meng said.

“We have been encouraging them to get Sirim’s MS224 certification since 2007. That’s 10 years ago! We’ve already given them ample time. It is high time that enforcement was carried out,” he said.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai slammed illegal manufacturers, saying that many fatal accidents were caused by retreaded tyres that did not meet standards.