2015 would probably be the year that I would look back and marvel about how new chapters in life are often invitations you have sent out long ago and had forgotten about; and that these chapters bring with them unexpected but welcomed adventures to inspire and prepare you for the unread chapters that have yet to come. Yes, in 2015, I did something magical. I answered a knock on my door from the universe, and started a company, with care as its core, innovation as its engine and determination as its roar. This company was created to to help people deal with aging and giving the best care they could for their loved ones.
Chapter 1: Something Old
The inspiration behind Caregiver Asia is my Grandmother. I love my grandmother, and she is a grand dame and she is my esprit. When grandma was suddenly warded in ICU about a year back, it broke my heart because it finally hit home that my grandmother isn't immortal, and we could really lose her. Thanks to the nurses, doctors and specialists at Gleneagles Hospital, mama made a miraculous recovery after a gruelling 14 long days in the hospital. But the real heartache started after she was discharged. My grandmother still needed 24 hours care, the family was tired out with worry, and none of us were medically trained to understand the implications of her fluctuating vital readings or trained to adjust her varying levels of oxygen. We had to look for trained medical help, private nurses, who would stay with grandma throughout the day, accompany her through the night, and therapists who could help grandma regain her strength with exercises at home.
Indeed, Health Emergencies are never planned, they come suddenly, and they almost always need immediate attention. In a perfect world, there would have be many options available for grandma. In reality, trained private nurses are high in demand, they are rarely ever just waiting around for a case to come by. House call therapists are elusive, being free lancers and locums, their contacts are usually known only by a small circle of friends and regulars. We relied on word of mouth, introductions from friends of friends and nursing agencies to get grandma the help that she needed. Many of the people who were introduced by our extended web of friends and relatives had no real references, and there was no way in which we could verify their credentials and experience. Nursing Agencies were an expensive option, but it was an option that we went for in the end. It took us almost another 3 weeks to find a stablised group of caregivers for Grandma after she was discharged. Sometimes, it makes me very sad to think that if only we had larger pool of candidates to choose from, and a better, more transparent process to base our decisions on, Grandma might have had a shorter recuperation time, and she might be even stronger than how she is now.
Chapter 2: Something New
It was with this idea of wanting to create a ready pool of caregivers with clear and available references and CVs that the Caregiver Asia portal was conceived and created. With like-minded friends (interestingly, many of us at Caregiver Asia, have at least one parent who is a professional caregiver, me included), we developed an online platform where caregivers from all specialities - nurses, physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, art therapists, medical companions, the list goes on - could list their services on the platform, with clear references, updated credentials, and transparent client reviews for all to see. Caregivers would also be encouraged to list their available timings on the portal, such that a person looking for care, a careseeker, could immediately book a caregiver's services on the go. As a care platform that was created for people that we love, we wanted to create a safe environment for everyone on the portal, and had taken extra steps to implement a post service review process and to give Caregivers the option to get themselves checked by a 3rd party background checks agency. Payment is taken up front by Caregiver Asia upon the booking of a service, and is only released to Caregivers upon the completion of a service, to avoid payment disputes. This service was launched to much fanfare in February 2015, and I truly felt that this was a much needed service, as it was covered by The Straits Times, The New Paper, Channel News Asia, Today, Business Times, 联合早报，联合晚报 and various blogs like the Vulcan Post.
Chapter 3: Something Borrowed
Many people have since asked me, what is the main difference between a Nurse Agency and Caregiver Asia when it comes to care delivery. There are many differences: we are purely online, we feature a full spectrum of caregiving services, but one of the biggest difference is that the Caregivers on our platform are self-employed freelancers. We debated internally on this business model for quite some time when we started out. Some of us felt that perhaps we should only hire the best caregivers and deploy them out to homes when cases come in. It was not suprising that it was a Caregiver who finally showed us the light.
Nurse Cynthia (names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned) was one of the nurses who attended to Mama at home. In fact, she still attends to my grandmother as her night nurse. When I first started Caregiver Asia, Cynthia shared her experience as a 20 year agency nurse with me, and in many ways, her advice shaped what the company is today, and how we reach out to our Caregivers. Cynthia used to work fulltime in a large hospital as a staff nurse and senior nurse trainer. She has 2 sons, and her younger son has Cerebral Palsy causing him to have difficult motor functions. As he grew older, Cynthia found it more and more difficult to balance her nursing shifts with having enough time to look after him. Eventually, she left her full time job and started work with an agency which allowed her to work only at night, so that she could take care of her son during the day when he was up and active. Cynthia shared that there were many caregivers like her. Nurses, therapists, doctors who had to give up their full time jobs due to family demands. In happier cases, it could be a young nurse who just started a family, and could not do night shifts anymore because she needed to take care of her new born baby. In more trying cases, it could be a therapist who could only take on cases on days when she did not have to accompany her husband for chemotherapy. Cynthia loved the idea of Caregiver Asia, where Caregivers who could not take on full time jobs could come back to the workforce easily and work on their own terms. The platform allows for Caregivers to control their available times, state their own fees, describe their own scope of service and most importantly, to reach out to a wide portfolio of Careseekers.
I am pleased to report that Caregiver Asia today is home to many Caregivers like Cynthia, and that I'm delighted that our portal has helped them get back to their Caregiving journeys. We have retired Caregivers who feel that they have many more years of Caregiving in them, we have Caregivers who work part of the time, while taking on additional certifications, we have Caregiver mums who take on cases when their children goes to school. Many have allowed us to document their Caregiving journeys and we are so happy to share these inspirational stories in our Facebook and newsletters.
Chapter 4: Something Blue and a Sixpence in Your Shoe
Cynthia's son passed away on 26th December 2015. He was 21 years old. My mum, sister and I attended his wake, and our hearts were so touched by the beautiful, loving pictures of the family that Cynthia and her family shared with all of us. Cynthia's son had the biggest most widest grin, and I am very sure he had cheered many people up with that megawatt grin of his. Cynthia came back to work 2 days later, right after her son was laid to rest. My grandmother's condition was unstable that week, and she felt strongly that she had to be there for mama and to dispense her duty with resilience and tenderness as her only nurse. I realised then, that Caregiving is indeed a noble calling and a passion. Once a Caregiver, always a Caregiver.
So with the close of 2015, and the hopeful start of our new caregiving service, it seems really apt to dedicate my year to Cynthia, her son and all the Caregivers past and present who have dedicated their lives to give comfort and shine hope for the people they care for. All of you have energized me and the Caregiver Asia team, and have given us the inspiration to continue to write new chapters in our care journeys which hopefully can touch lives in the same way that you have touched ours.