Longest serving staff at SATA CommHealth
Tham Hong Soon has been with the organisation for 64 years, starting the job at the age of 16!
Most people don’t stay on with their jobs for long, changing jobs several times along the way. It is very rare for an individual to stay on for a while and the job being the first and only one. For Tham Hong Soon, this is the case. She has been with SATA CommHealth for 64 years, starting at age 16 in 1959 and before SATA CommHealth’s rebranding! She also holds the distinction as the longest staff there.
As such this 80-year-old has seen a lot of changes over the years within the charitable healthcare organisation. When she joined, Hong Soon was tasked with the job as health attendant, assisting nurses and doctors with patient care, and maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in the medical facility. Even though she had not much education, or medical or operation’s work experience, what she makes up with is her determination to work hard and continue learning. Her father was a construction worker and her mother, a hairdresser and seamstress supporting a family of 13.
“When I first started working at SATA CommHealth, we had only one main clinic looking after tuberculosis (TB) patients. Later, a few more clinics opened to provide more healthcare to people in Singapore, and our services were primarily focused on providing basic medical care to the community. Over the years, we have expanded our services to include specialised care, such as rehabilitation services, doctors-on-wheels, homecare services as well as health education and preventive care programmes,” she said.
She has also seen technology slowly permeate into the organisation. “Another significant change that I have seen is the adoption of new technologies and practices to improve the quality of our healthcare services.” She shared the example of electronic medical records which was implemented to improve recordkeeping and enhance patient care. The mother of two shared that the organisation also adopted new medical equipment and techniques to improve the accuracy and efficiency of its diagnostic and treatment procedures. She remembered in the earlier times, it was more manual work in processing the patient documents.
Besides all these improvements and changes made to the organisation, Hong Soon has also gone through several outbreaks while at SATA CommHealth, including the TB outbreak, SARS and the recent COVID-19 pandemic. That all has kept her in step but never too concerned. “While there have been moments of fear and uncertainty, I have always trusted in the training and precautions that we take as healthcare professionals to protect ourselves and our patients.”
Taking us back to the TB outbreak, she shared, “In those days, tuberculosis was a significant public health concern in Singapore and it was considered a highly contagious disease. As we worked in a healthcare environment, we took strict precautions to prevent the spread of the disease such as wearing masks and gloves, and ensuring proper ventilation in our healthcare facilities.
“While the situation was challenging, it was also an opportunity for us to come together as a team and demonstrate our commitment to the community’s health and well-being. We worked closely with other healthcare providers and Government agencies to manage the outbreak and provide the best possible care and hygiene to our patients.”
And the COVID-19 pandemic? Hong Soon worked in her current full-time role as senior health attendant, closely working with the team to uphold the hygiene regulations for its staff and patients to follow to prevent the spread of the disease, and ensure the safety of its patients and healthcare workers.
“One of the key things that we did was to implement strict infection control measures such as wearing personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, ensuring proper hand hygiene, and maintaining social distancing in our healthcare facilities. We also conducted regular temperature checks and health screenings for staff and patients to identify potential cases of COVID-19,” she shared.
Comparing it to what she saw during the TB outbreak, Hong Soon said, “Compared to the tuberculosis outbreak, dealing with COVID-19 was different in several ways. While both outbreaks required us to take strict precautions and protocols to prevent the spread of the disease, the COVID-19 pandemic was on a much larger scale and required a more comprehensive response from healthcare providers and the community as a whole. The rapid spread and high transmission rate of COVID-19 also meant that we had to adapt and respond quickly to changing circumstances, which required a lot of collaboration and communication within our organisation and with external stakeholders.”
Hong Soon has no regrets staying on at SATA CommHealth and enjoys the work she is doing. “Doing this work is important to me because I have always had a strong passion for healthcare and helping others. I recognise my role is an important pillar of support to the healthcare system and I find great fulfilment in being able to make a positive impact on people’s lives and help them in times of need. Furthermore, working at SATA CommHealth has given me the opportunity to serve the community and to make a difference in the lives of those who may not have access to healthcare services otherwise.”
She shared a memorable moments in her long career – including one during SARS, where she and the team had to work round-the-clock and take all the necessary precautions to keep herself and the team safe, while caring for patients who were infected with the disease. She hopes she can continue collecting these memories at her age and beyond.
“I believe that as long as I am able to provide valuable contributions to my organisation and to the community, there is no reason for me to stop working. I feel fortunate to have good health and the ability to continue working, and I am committed to doing so for as long as I am able. Furthermore, working keeps me mentally and physically active, which is important for healthy ageing. It also allows me to stay connected with my colleagues and the community, and to continue learning and adapting in a healthcare environment.” She also continues going to church on the weekends and meets up with her church mates. She also enjoys singing and sings as often as she can with friends.
Asked what advice Hong Soon has about work for other seniors. “As a senior who is still working, I would advise others to consider continuing to work if they are able and willing. Here are some tips and advice that I would like to share:
- Keep an open mind: Consider working in a different role or industry if you are interested in trying something new. You may find a job that you truly enjoy and are passionate about. Age should never stop you from trying something new.
- Stay active and engaged: Continue being engaged in activities that keep you mentally and physically active such as volunteering, hobbies or learning new skills. Staying engaged and active can help keep you sharp and energised.
- Maintain a healthy work-life balance: Make sure to prioritise your health and well-being. Take breaks when needed, and ensure that you are not overworking yourself. It is important to find a balance between work and other activities that you enjoy.
- Embrace technology: With advancements in technology, there are many ways to stay connected and continue learning. Consider taking online courses, using social media to connect with colleagues and friends, or utilising healthcare technology to stay healthy. I learnt to use WhatsApp to communicate with my family and friends.
Overall, my advice would be to stay active, engaged and open-minded about working as a senior. It is possible to continue making valuable contributions to society and finding fulfilment in our work, regardless of age.”