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Covid-19: Doctor who volunteered at migrant worker dorm among 17 to get top healthcare award

SINGAPORE — When his boss put out a call for volunteers for a medical team to be sent to the S11 Dormitory at Punggol, which was then fighting a major Covid-19 cluster, Dr Dennis Chia stepped up without hesitation.

Dr Dennis Chia was awarded the Covid-19 Healthcare Superhero Award at the 11th Singapore Health Quality Service Awards held at Singapore General Hospital Campus on March 29, 2021.

Dr Dennis Chia was awarded the Covid-19 Healthcare Superhero Award at the 11th Singapore Health Quality Service Awards held at Singapore General Hospital Campus on March 29, 2021.

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  • Dr Dennis Chia was part of the first team from Sengkang General Hospital to be sent to the S11 Dormitory in April last year
  • He was among 17 health professionals to receive the top Covid-19 Superhero Award this year
  • Another 6,860 healthcare workers were presented the Hero award this year, a record number since the awards began in 2011

 

SINGAPORE — When his boss put out a call for volunteers for a medical team to be sent to the S11 Dormitory at Punggol, which was then fighting a major Covid-19 cluster, Dr Dennis Chia stepped up without hesitation.

To the emergency department doctor, it was a form of national service. “And if it’s not me, it’s going to be one of my colleagues who have children,” said the 35-year-old, who is single.

Dr Chia became part of the first Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) mobile medical team of close to 20 doctors and nurses tasked to set up a medical post at the dormitory, where he saw patients with flu-like symptoms or other medical needs.

On Monday (March 29), Dr Chia was among 17 health professionals to receive the top Covid-19 Superhero Award at the annual Singapore Health Quality Service Awards organised by the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre.

Another 6,860 healthcare workers from 38 public and private healthcare institutions, community hospitals and agencies from the community care sector were presented the Hero award this year.

This year’s awards, held at the Singapore General Hospital Campus, notched up a record number of individual award winners since the awards began in 2011.

The ceremony had a special Covid-19 theme, called Celebration of Unity, to recognise healthcare professionals who have contributed significantly to the nation’s fight against the coronavirus.

The SKH team was deployed on April 5 last year, just before the circuit breaker period, which took effect on April 7, and only a few days after they were assembled.

It was the same day that the dormitory was gazetted as an isolation area, one of the first two dormitories to have all workers quarantined in their rooms, along with Westlite Toh Guan dormitory.

When Dr Chia first set foot into the S11 dormitory, which housed about 13,000 residents, he could feel a palpable sense of fear among the residents who were worried about their health, their livelihoods, and the uncertainty that any resident could be a Covid-19 carrier.

For two to three days a week, Dr Chia would visit the S11 Dormitory to see patients in the morning, sometimes returning again at night to tend to more patients.

He would spend the rest of the work week back at his regular job as a consultant at the department of emergency medicine at SKH.

Two doctors would be on duty at a time. On busy days, they could see up to 100 patients between them.

“It was quite overwhelming for all of us involved,” said Dr Chia.

Before this, Dr Chia had been a regular volunteer at HealthServe, a non-profit organisation serving the migrant worker community in Singapore.

Seeing how worried the residents were, especially with a language barrier between them and the doctors, he helped involve HealthServe’s volunteers at the S11 Dormitory to provide mental health resources.

In May last year, Dr Chia joined the SingHealth holistic response and outreach team which visited migrant workers in 15 dormitories to hear their concerns and worked with dormitory managers to ensure that their feedback was addressed.

Dr Chia recalled how one resident told him how distraught he was when he broke the only cup he owned. The resident was not allowed to leave his dormitory, so the outreach team chipped in and got him a new cup.

“Every morning, all he looked forward to was that cup of coffee,” Dr Chia said, adding that although it was a small act, he hoped that it made a difference to the resident going through such a tough time.

Dr Chia returned to the S11 Dormitory to continue manning the medical post in July last year, before the Ministry of Manpower’s new Assurance, Care and Engagement Group in August took over the on-site medical centre.

“Seeing the previously solemn dormitory transit into its usual hustle and bustle, as the residents were cleared to return to work, gave us hope for the future,” said Dr Chia.

The Covid-19 cluster at the S11 Dormitory at Punggol — Singapore’s largest — closed on Aug 8 last year with more than 2,800 confirmed cases.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was the guest of honour for the award ceremony on Monday, said the pandemic has shown how efficient Singapore’s healthcare institutions and professionals have been in tackling fast-evolving situations.

He praised the work of the SingHealth team that built the 3,200-bed community care facility at the Singapore Expo in 10 days. The team was among three teams that won the Best Team Award at the ceremony.

“Even as the battle (against Covid-19) is ongoing, we would like to take the opportunity to appreciate and recognise the efforts of our healthcare heroes who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve courageously and tirelessly.”

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