When my dad first became sick, my auntie broached the subject of hiring someone to help watch over my dad.
I had to go to work, and it would be better to have someone to take care of him. My dad at 76, was still relatively fit but not young anymore.
Her point was valid.
My brother asked my dad if it would be easier to hire someone to look after him, and he declined. We never had a maid all our lives, and having a stranger in the house will definitely be awkward.
My dad went through three cycles of chemotherapy with me taking care of him. He could still go home from SGH after each cycle.
But when the report that he was not responding to chemo, I reflected upon this.
Every decision tree in my head tells me that I need to get someone to watch over my dad.
Getting Mar Re On Board
I decide to link up with Active Global Caregivers to help me find a caregiver to look after my dad.
To be honest, there were not many choices. We had to find someone:
- Reliable (cannot change too much)
- Somewhat medically train.
- Able to have grit
- Able to do a lot of tough things such as lifting the person, and changing diapers.
When my mom was fighting cancer five years ago, we approached Active Global as well to get a caregiver to take care of mom. The caregiver was almost flying over from Myanmar before I pull the plug, as mom didn’t make it.
So Active Global has always featured on our minds.
My aunt and uncle have engaged Active Global to find a caregiver to take care of my Ah Ma 24×7. My Ah Ma’s caregiver turned out to be much more reliable than all but one of the Myanmar maids engaged. They either don’t know what they are supposed to do or have suspected issues that make us unable to trust them.
Immediately, I was provided with eight resumes of caregivers originating from Myanmar. They were currently working in Singapore. I don’t know whether recruiting staff for work or for my dad is more stress ful but I have to sieve through the resumes fast. My aunt helps us look through the resume.
I realized that there were a few things that I took for granted:
- Are they strong enough because they need to move a man?
- Can they cook?
- How do you assess that they can work under stress?
Cooking wasn’t listed under any of the resumes! So this means that we need to ask the candidate we picked.
There were one or two ideal candidates but good candidates get snapped up fast. Immediately, we can feel the heat because the contact person will announce that this caregiver is off the market. The most ideal candidate who has been in Singapore for a while, have experience taking care of two elderly at the same time. Before we can arrange to meet her, she was off the market.
That was when our contact person send up the candidates on Advanced Placement Scheme (APS, more on that later). There were 16 resumes and Mar Re’s resume was one of them.
Mar Re caught my attention because, unlike the other candidates, she is older and she has two children. Mar Re used to work in Singapore 12 years ago as a domestic worker. Back then, she cared for dementia patients before. When she went back to Myanmar ten years ago, she work as a caregiver.
To be honest, it is quite difficult to choose based on qualifications because all the resumes look the same.
I decided to interview Mar Re.
She seem to be able to understand what I said. She can speak simple Mandarin. She doesn’t seem so reserved. My contact asked if she is ok to take care of a male person and she was relatively ok with it.
I asked if she was able to cook.
She reluctantly said she has not been cooking for a while but should be able to. That made me second guess whether Mar Re was right.
I eventually interview the best candidate, who I thought was off the market. To be honest, the candidate sound like nothing would faze her. Cooking, taking care of a male, medical stuff, she seem ok with it.
In the end, the gut tells me I should try my luck with Mar Re.
What does Mar Re help me with?
The caregiver’s primary role is to handle the daily care of the person designated to help.
This will take care of the person’s hygiene, nutrition, daily life activities, medical and social activities and all domestic duties related to the person.
It is within Mar Re’s job scope if it relates to my dad.
Aside from that, cleaning other bathrooms, cleaning Kyith’s rooms and writing on Investment Moats are not part of Mar Re’s job scope.
The caregivers from Active Global are given in-house training on some common nursing techniques. After a few months, the internal staff at Active Global will also go down to review the caregiver to see if they need an additional refresher.
Mar Re shared with me that she came to Singapore upon the recommendation of her friend, who also came to Singapore. Her friend’s employer made her walk the two dogs, on top of taking care of the person she is suppose to care for.
Suffice to say, Mar Re’s friend didn’t last long and eventually got sent back (the employer didn’t want her to work for another person).
Caregiving full-time is not a simple task. It requires the person to make the person they care for their entire life. That can be rather tiring; if you want the caregiver to function well, you must give them enough breaks.
I don’t wish to go through long paragraphs of explanation, but here is what I can recall that Mar Re help with.
For my dad:
- Talk to him, listen to him.
- Learn to cook what we are most accustomed to eating.
- Bring him downstairs when he requests.
- Go down to buy food or groceries he or she needs.
- Clean the bedroom, kitchen, toilet and living room which he uses.
- Accompany him to the hospital by MRT.
- Massage him daily.
- Shift him around (when dad became weaker).
- Bring him to the toilet to urine and shit.
- Change his diapers daily (many times!)
- Keeps track of his medicine.
- Administer insulin injection.
- Help him with physiotherapies.
The over and above:
- Clean many of my shelves and storage area.
- Cook for me.
- Mop and clean my room when I request.
- Wash my clothes.
She basically does most of the stuff and goes over and above.
When my dad passed and I no longer require Mar Re’s services, I have the option of transferring back the caregiver back to the agency with no charges. If we think about it, it is good money because if there is a fast turnover, they can then lever another service fee after a few months when they send Mar Re to another employer (More on this service fee to be explained later).
Mar Re’s Greatest Strengths
From the first day, she came, she didn’t stop working. I had to tell her that we don’t need her to do so much of the other stuff other than focus on dad.
But as we soon learn, that is Mar Re for you.
She is just hardworking when she is in the mood. She washes her clothes, and our clothes by hand every morning, even after I taught her how to use the washing machine.
I give Mar Re every Sunday off (9 am to 9 pm). Mar Re never stuck to it. If my dad needs to have his diapers change because he took too much meds, she would change. When she say she will be late, she came back at… 8 pm.
Mar Re is watching her weight so she doesn’t eat much. This may be a reason why my family food cost did not increase much with her onboard.
And Mar Re can cook if she wants. When I observe the way she dice the onion and garlic, I knew she cook enough. She just doesn’t want employers to know because she is lazy to cook sometimes. But she cooks every meal for me. Not always the best but hey, I also didn’t give her feedback so I also cannot complain about her cooking.
But Mar Re’s greatest strength is that she is just a nice human being.
I think after two days of being with my dad, any reservations my dad has of someone foreign were gone. She will listen to what my dad shares about cooking or what they watch on YouTube.
By the first week, my dad’s left arm was weakened by electro-radiation therapy. Mar Re will massage his arm every night or afternoon when she has the time.
You don’t know how relieved I was inside when I realize that a caregiver can alleviate almost everything at home. It affords me much mental bandwidth.
When my dad lost some of his cognitive ability deep into the illness, he would tell me that “there is not enough money in his wallet.” He will leave his wallet close with him so that when I am not around, he can ask Mar Re to buy things for him.
When Mar Re and I looked in the wallet, there was at least $300 in the wallet.
Shortly after Mar Re left, I found a pouch in a brown pedestal. I realize there is at least $3,000 inside.
Mar Re has this busy bee nature that she would just find areas of the home to clean each day. And she likes to throw away things, so much so that there were some miscellaneous items that we could not find (she must have thrown them away. I was pretty sure Mar Re cleaned the brown pedestal.
There were a couple of occasions when my dad had to stay in the hospital. Mar Re will message me: “How is Ah Kong?” When my Ah Ma had to be hospitalized, she would ask me: “When is your Ah Ma coming back?”
When my dad cannot eat or drink, she will dig into her brain to see what are the ways to get liquid into my dad.
There were enough days when I came back to see Mar Re either holding my dad’s hands or sitting by his side as he lay there.
On the day that Mar Re left, she told me she will miss this place, especially when Ah Kong was around.
The Stories Mar Re Tells Me
Mar Re would tell me how naughty his two boys are. She would tell my brother that if my nephew behave like his children, they would not have food when they move around during meals.
Mar Re’s husband works as a school teacher. Where she is from is cold, and where he resides in is hot. So when she married over, there was some getting adjusted to.
Inflation in Myanmar is crazy. This may be one of the reasons Mar Re decided to come over after such a long break.
A few nights, I would see her struggling to talk to her sister.
The reception wasn’t great. The problem was not on our side but on her sister’s side. You see, her sister has to run away from her home due to the attacks and the fighting where she lives. Then when things settled down, she would go back.
It makes me appreciate what we take for granted in Singapore. It is also not easy for Mar Re to wonder if her sister is ok.
Mar Re share with me that her peers have reservations of taking care of cancer patients. It is not because they are reluctant to take care of them but… they often don’t make it and within months, they have to look for another employer (just like my dad’s situation).
As a retirement planner, people always suggested to me that most can accept volatile income but I wonder if it is true.
Most people cannot accept too much volatility in their lives and caregivers as well.
People crave stability and caregivers are no different.
While new to here, Mar Re also tried to help out other caregivers where she could. After my dad passed, she was supposed to meet a friend but I got an important parcel coming that day so she went to Bedok reservoir to fetch her friend back.
Her friend’s employer who is an Ah Ma had to see Mar Re before letting the friend go. Suffice to say, the Ah Ma bordered on unreasonable. The family also cannot tahan her and Mar Re’s friend spend much of the time at my home sobbing and crying.
How Much it Cost Me
My contact person provided the scope of work and the service fees required to get a person like Mar Re onboard as a caregiver for my dad.
If you are reading this next time, the fees might differ.
The service fee for caregivers from Myanmar, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India is a total package cost of S$2,675 w/GST, excluding foreign domestic worker insurance.
If you choose a caregiver from the Philippines, the total package cost is S$3,103 w/GST.
Now, there is a higher service fee if the caregiver comes in under the Advance Placement Scheme (APS). This is a pilot scheme piloted by the Ministry of Manpower to get live-in caregivers faster to Singapore.
The cost is higher.. at S$3,263 w/GST.
Now, while selecting the caregiver, I didn’t realize that Mar Re was on the APS scheme, so instead of paying $2,675, I had to pay $3,263. To be honest, I was not very happy about it but I just let it go because in the grand scheme of things, that is not the most important thing at that point. When you are stressed out, how would we know there is a difference between the resume of a caregiver in this pile versus the other pile? There should be more emphasis before the payment to make the client realize that the pricing is different.
Mar Re’s monthly salary is S$750 a month.
There are other fees that I have to pay:
- Insurance from HL Assurance (Enhanced Maid Protect360 | 26 months): S$356.30
- Monthly maid levy: S$60 monthly
- Mar Re’s monthly salary: S$750 monthly
- Overdue maid levy: S$36 (for being late. I thought the GIRO was activated KNN)
Mar Re stayed with me from Mid Nov to End Feb.
Even though my dad passed away on 3rd Feb, I asked Mar Re to stay on to rest a bit. If I had activated immediately, I would probably save S$350 in salary. That is about 3.5 months.
So the total:
- Upfront fees (Service fees + insurance) : $3,371 + $356 = $3,727
- Levy (including overdue fees KNN): $254
- Taxi (after grab vouchers): $4.80
- Mar Re’s salary: $2,450.
- Translink card for Mar Re: $40
- Grand total: $6,476.
This does not include the medical cost or Mar Re’s meal cost.
Some friends & readers were surprised that there is an upfront service fee. I would get questions from them about how many months of “debt” my maid owed the agency. This sounded very odd to me until I realize the structure of Active Global Caregivers is different from the traditional maid agency.
In the traditional structure, the first few months of salary that the client pays the maid has to be paid back by the maid to the agency as the cost of bringing her here. She would only start receiving her salary after certain months.
This means that the client need not pay an upfront fee. The traditional agency earns from that debt.
In the case of Active Global Caregivers, the service fee will be extra for the client. You can understand why the caregivers may prefer this structure because they will receive the salary faster as compare to working for a typical maid agency.
Some Advice Regarding Medical Sinking Fund Planning
I hope that my experience written here and the previous article about my dad’s passing, will give you real-life accounts to help in some of your planning (I may still write one on insurance.)
The cost I spend solely on this probably is less than $10,000 but the payoff to the family is immense.
In recent times, I like to think of planning in terms of layers.
By planning and setting aside the first few layers, your financial resources is already very useful, even though you don’t have the full amount.
I think the same framework works for advanced-stage critical illness planning as well.
The first year of the fight is crucial. If you cannot survive the first year, there is no second year.
In order for everyone (the patient and the caregivers & family) to get through the first year, having even $15,000 will help immensely.
Nowadays, it is a bit weird and maybe not very cost-effective to get $15,000 in advanced-stage critical coverage so even getting $50,000 in coverage can go a long way.
You can cover about 2 years of caregiver costs, not to mention numerous taxi rides and emergency vehicle rides.
Since the last article, some have reached out to me to see if Mar Re is open to working for them.
We tried to find a good fit for Mar Re but in the end, it did not work out. But there are lots of demand for caregiving help.
Mar Re now works for a new employer caring for a female stroke patient. I hope that her new employers take good care of her because I know she will take good care of them.
I am sharing my experience so you can have good information to help you make good decisions. Since my dad’s passing, I realize that I am not the only one playing the role of the caregiver.
Friends are looking for help and I hope this will give you one option to consider.
I believe not every caregiver will be like Mar Re, but a few pieces of anecdotal evidence tell me that caregivers from Active Global are reliable and helpful enough for their needs.
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