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Malaysia nursing home tries to find family of patient

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M'sia nursing home tries to find family of patient who has not had visitor since she was admitted in 2001

Madam Pungut Jumadi, 69, does not behave any differently from other residents at the Green Acres Elderly Care Centre in Johor Baru - except during festive occasions like Hari Raya.

When she sees others getting visits from family members, her face becomes downcast, and she grows quieter.

The reason: No one has visited Madam Pungut since she was admitted to the home by her son in 2001 at the age of 53, said the staff at Green Acres, which is about 20 minutes' drive from the Causeway.

They said Madam Pungut, a Malaysian living with family in Singapore, was treated in Tan Tock Seng Hospital for a stroke and then taken to the home after she was discharged.

The owner of the home, Mr Yeo Kok Leong, contacted The Straits Times recently to help Madam Pungut locate her family members as he has been unable to contact her son, whose name was registered as Syahrunizal Mohamad Ali.

Mr Yeo said he is reaching out in the hope of finding her family here, as Madam Pungut's health is declining. Her family is believed to be made up of Singaporeans residing in Singapore.

"She often says she wants to balik (go home). We want to help her fulfil her heart's desire," he added.

Her fees have not been paid for several years, although Mr Yeo declined to reveal the exact amount owed. Fees at Green Acres start from RM1,700 (S$550) a month.

"It is not about the money. We are hoping that her son will come here to see his mother."

Mr Yeo said he has tried to find Madam Pungut's other relatives in her hometown of Segamat in Malaysia to no avail.

The Straits Times visited Madam Pungut's former home in Ang Mo Kio, based on the address given by Mr Yeo, but no one answered the door on two separate days last week.

Neighbours said at least three different families have lived in the unit over the past decade.

Cases like Madam Pungut's can also be found at other senior care homes located across the Causeway, though operators said they are not prevalent.

There is a variety of senior care homes in Johor Baru, ranging from those that provide nursing services to the very sick to those that cater to the more independent elderly.

The Straits Times visited five such homes recently.

At the Spring Valley Homecare located about 15 minutes from Green Acres, the 80 or so Singaporeans form a sizeable proportion of its 190 residents.

Mr John Ralph Isleta, an administration executive there, said cases involving Singaporeans who do not visit their relatives are rare but not unheard of. The home is caring for one Singaporean with dementia admitted in 2013.

In the four years since, his family has only visited once.

In another incident, a man's family stopped paying fees after a month. Monthly charges at Spring Valley range from $630 to $740.

"They did not pay, and for three months after that, we never heard anything from the son," Mr Isleta said.

"We tried to contact them, but they didn't answer."

Staff members took him to Singapore to try and locate his son, and eventually to the police, who said they would handle the matter.

For the most part, nursing home operators said family members - Singaporean and Malaysian - do their best to visit their relatives often.

"Some Singaporeans come once a week or only once a month, because of the distance," said Mr Jeremy Yeo. He runs City Heart Care, which has 180 residents, 30 of whom are from Singapore.

"But all our residents have family who visit them."

At Green Acres, which has about 25 residents - including two from Singapore - the staff try to do what they can for Madam Pungut, who cannot walk, has difficulty speaking and is being fed through a tube.

"We buy her new clothes during Hari Raya," said Ms Liew Seenah, a senior nurse at the home. "All the other patients have people to visit them, except her."

When ST visited Madam Pungut, her face lit up when she saw she had visitors.

But when asked about her family, her smile faded away.