SINGAPORE: Seniors in Ang Mo Kio who need a bit of help - getting food, fixing a lightbulb or arranging a hospital appointment - now have a number they can call.
The pilot initiative, called ACES Care HelpLife, started on Monday (Jun 6), and engages senior volunteers to be call agents to help other seniors.
The project by ACES Care Limited, was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday at the Teck Ghee Community Centre.
It will be manned by senior volunteers from Teck Ghee Constituency, where Mr Lee is the Member of Parliament.
Project manager Mr Loh Wee Hiang said that they are starting out with 30 volunteers, and will take time to iron out the kinks in the system before extending it nationwide. He hopes to do so in three years’ time.
“We are moving step by step,” he said, adding that the “infrastructure” is ready, but they need more volunteers and for them to be trained.
Mr Loh said that it takes about two months to train the volunteers. Their training includes “soft skills” like building rapport with callers and handling difficult ones, as well as technical skills like how to use the ACES Care call system.
The volunteers are also trained to be aware of various help schemes for seniors, and to aid those who call in about scams.
The system, built by social enterprise Octopus8, is AI-enabled and creates a profile for each caller in a secure system so that volunteers can follow-up with each case.
The volunteers can access the system through a laptop, which they can use at the call centre in Teck Ghee or at home.
The data collected will also be analysed for patterns in demographics and the needs of the callers, said Dr S Vasoo, the chairman of ACES Care Limited.
Dr Vasoo said that with a greying population, the need to support seniors will grow.
“Our mission (is) linking seniors to the right services … and what is our value proposition? We are humanising technology … (and) it is managed by seniors themselves,” he said in a speech at the launch.
“And then what's important is the follow-up - not just knowing the problem, then referring them to the agency … there is a follow-up to ensure that their needs are met.”
Madam Ann Soh, 68, who retired last year, has been volunteering in Yio Chu Kang as a Silver Generation Ambassador since 2014. She was due to start a three-hour shift manning the ACES Care hotline on Monday afternoon and said she plans to volunteer twice a week.
During house visits to the elderly in the community, Mdm Soh said she saw how many seniors needed help. The urgency to reach out to them through other channels also became clear during the pandemic, when physical contact was limited.
Mdm Soh described some scenarios they were trained for, including having seniors call in saying they were hungry and needed food. Some also asked for help to change medical appointments or to top up medication.
“Seniors who are very old, especially during the vaccination (period), they did not know how to do the bookings,” she said. “Some do not know how to follow up on their hospital visits, their appointments … This is very, very important because most of the seniors have at least one or two chronic diseases.”
Said Mr Lee at the launch: “To have somebody at the end of a phone line, like the ACES helpline, who you can talk to … and sympathise with you … it’s very good for the old folks, it's very good for the senior advisors.
“It's not just talking to you, but also putting you in touch with so many other groups who can actually be of practical help to you. I wish you every success and I thank all of the volunteers are here and who are participating.”
The hotline number is 6797 6797 and it is accessible from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.