Working at the former Woodbridge Hospital: Not “dangerous” and “scary” as it seems

The Woodbridge bell can be found near the main lobby of IMH.

The famous Woodbridge bell sits pretty at the entrance of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) but it no longer rings today. It was casted in Leicester, England and has been around since 1928.

In the past, the bell used to sound three times a day to announce meal times. Can you imagine being woken up at 530am for breakfast? Apparently mealtimes had to be staggered to accommodate the large group of patients in a dining hall.

If the bell was sounded at other times, the hospital staff had to brace themselves for “bad” news. It could have been a breakout of “lallang” fire or patients absconding from their wards.

In the event of a fire, the “fire brigade” including the Healthcare Attendants had to extinguish the fires with buckets of water.

Thankfully, the Health Attendants today no longer deal with fires. But, they still have to keep their eyes peeled for patients who try to leave the wards.

Suzanah works as a Healthcare Assistant at the acute hospital ward in IMH.

Suzanah, a 50-year-old Healthcare Assistant, admitted unabashedly that she had fears when she first joined IMH 14 years ago.

“On my first day of work, the patients came around me and asked for my name.”

She no longer feels afraid as she has gotten accustomed to the environment and finds that the patients are just like anyone else, except they have a mental health condition.

She said she enjoys working in IMH as she is now better able to detect symptoms of dementia should anything happen to her family members including her 69-year-old mother.

“My mother asked me to work in the hospital line as I’ve been retrenched several times in my previous jobs. She said I could work in the hospital till I’m old.”

Suzanah faced three rounds of retrenchment in her previous jobs and even though she received retrenchment package between $2,000 to $5,000, there was no job stability.

Her late father who also worked in IMH, encouraged her to join the organisation. She hesitated at first but changed her mind after her father passed on.

Compounds within IMH.

Attitude determines altitude

As the oldest child in the family, her father didn’t allow her to pursue her secondary school education as he was worried about gangsters in school.

“Frankly, I like to study and learn new things but my father didn’t allow me to.”

Suzanah’s boss noticed her keen interest to learn and wanted to send her for training in 2008 but she wasn’t confident of her language abilities so she decided to upskill herself first.

“I attended an English course twice a week at WDA and graduated with a Certificate in English after four months.”

Suzanah, who has been a union member for 10 years, finally went on a Skills Upgrading Programme a few years ago. She received in-house training for three weeks and 420 hours of on-the-job training.

This course prepared her to perform clinical duties required of a Healthcare Assistant.

“I had to learn a lot of psychiatric terminologies but I can’t remember all of them now.”

Suzanah makes coffee and tea for patients. She separates the sugar for diabetic patients.

In the past , Suzanah was only responsible for supporting and assisting nursing staff in the delivery of patient care and cleanliness of the environment.

Now, she has taken on the added responsibility of measuring  patients’ blood pressure and temperature. IMH rewarded her with a $50 monthly pay increment for taking on greater job responsibilities.

“Maybe I can become an Assistant Nurse in future. I have to go for a two years training at ITE and if my company asks me to go, I’d surely go and do my best.”

Upskilling and Job Redesign

In 2016, IMH outsourced their ward-based cleaning chores to a cleaning company and mechanised the kitchen operations. IMH implemented the Skills Upgrading Programme to help workers who used to perform these mundane tasks to acquire new skills to take on more value-added jobs.

The Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU) office is situated within IMH.

HSEU and NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) met with IMH’s management from the start to clarify the training goals and post training remunerations.

They gave recommendations to recognise the staff’s efforts to contribute more and supported the former Health Attendants with their training and development.

This initiative is part of the Healthcare Industry Transformation Map (ITM) to provide better jobs and better pay for workers.

Out of 20 IMH staff who went through the programme, 10 of them have been promoted to the Healthcare Assistants. The remaining 10 staff can be promoted depending on the availability of Healthcare Assistant vacancies and their work performance.

For Suzanah, she is two grades away from being groomed to become an Assistant Nurse.

With her great learning attitude, I am certain that she will keep progressing in her career.