Having helmed management positions in several organisations, including Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), Home Nursing Foundation (HNF) and SingHealth, HCA CEO Ms Karen Lee feels her role is akin to the goalkeeper of a football team.
“My role is to serve, to facilitate and to troubleshoot,” Karen says. “I see myself as the last line of defence – because of my vantage point, I am able to feed additional data points to the team attacking and defending upfront, so we can adjust our tactics on the ground accordingly.”
“My focus lies in how I can support and enable our HCA team in providing holistic professional and compassionate care services, to meet the evolving needs of our patients and their families.”
“But at the end of the day, I am but a team member. Each of us play a different role but we collectively work towards a common goal of providing good quality care and support to our patients and their caregivers.”
Karen recalls two starkly different personal experiences of death: the loss of her beloved grandfather and the passing of a family friend. “I spent my early years with grandpa as my guide, protector and playmate,” she shares. “I was in my 30s when grandpa was admitted to hospital for a final time. I found it impossible to stand by his bedside and watch what seemed like never-ending suffering.”
As her family considered different treatment options, Karen remembers being filled with conflicting emotions of dread and guilt. “I dreaded the possibility of prolonging his suffering, but also experienced guilt at wishing him dead sooner. These thoughts were not something we could speak about openly as a family.”
Sometime later, Karen had a fortuitous encounter with HCA, when a family friend became terminally ill. “I was deeply moved as I observed HCA support a family friend’s last months with dignity, warmth and openness,” she says. “As the family was more aware of care options available, they enlisted HCA’s home hospice services early on. Supported clinically and psychologically by the care team, they made the most of their remaining time together and grew stronger as a family.”
“They showed me that a good death is a blessing.”
Candid yet compassionate conversations about death and dying are what Karen hopes HCA’s new Day Hospice, [email protected], can facilitate. “I think there is still a bit of taboo surrounding death and dying; people are tiptoeing around these conversations,” she explains. “At [email protected], we want to create a place that is happy and cheerful, but also provide an appropriate space for such conversations to happen.”
Karen’s extensive career in community- and healthcare has accorded her fresh perspectives and an invaluable experience she is thankful for. “I think folks in the community care sector are kind, generous and practical folks,” she says. “I have seen my colleagues being so creative in coming up with practical solutions to meet patients’ needs. That inspires me tremendously. Our patients and their caregivers show so much strength and fortitude in bearing their discomforts and yet trying to make the best of life.”
It is Karen’s fourth month on the job, an experience she describes as grounding and fun at the same time. “It has been really good fun with the HCA team, who have been more than generous in welcoming me,” she shares. “I particularly enjoy going on home visits with our clinical teams and being able to interact directly with those we serve and support.”
“It helps to keep me focused on why we come to work daily and keeps our priorities clear. Personally, these experiences ground me as a person and serve as constant reminders of how fortunate I am to be in a position to serve, to guide and to influence.”
Karen envisions a future built upon robust data and fresh ideas to meet evolving needs. The recent surveys conducted by HCA showed that the top two concerns for patients, prior to HCA’s intervention, were pain and mobility issues. About a quarter of those surveyed felt that their symptoms were “much better” after being referred to HCA.
“With changing population demographics, social, familial norms and a rapidly ageing population, we are discovering new areas of needs and expectations from our patients and their families,” Karen says. “It is therefore important for HCA to constantly review our current care models and practices to ensure relevance, and ask ourselves where and how we can correspondingly evolve our services and processes to better meet the needs of those we serve.”
The last two years have been fraught with immense challenges and constant changes. “We can only expect the pace of change to increase,” Karen shares. “Our people, our joint commitment and passion are precious assets.”
“It is therefore critical for us to come together as one HCA as we blend the boundaries of direct patient care and corporate functions, to support each other, in order for us to continue being the centre of excellence even as we navigate new environments.”