As SingHealth celebrates 200 years of medicine in Singapore (MedSG200) this year, we speak with Audrey Lau, Executive Director, SingHealth Fund (SHF), about the role of healthcare philanthropy in charting the way in defining tomorrow’s medicine.
SHF champions healthcare causes and ignites the potential of Medicine by supporting research, education and innovation initiatives across SingHealth’s network of four acute hospitals, five national specialty centres, as well as community hospitals and polyclinics.
Q: This year we mark 200 years of Medicine in Singapore. What has been the role of philanthropy, and how does it continue to be relevant?
A: Over the last two centuries, Singapore’s healthcare system has evolved to be one of world’s best. Very few organisations in Singapore can boast of turning 200 years old. Our institutions have had the unique privilege of caring for generations of Singaporeans. Our mission is supported by many individuals, foundations and companies who share our vision of advancing medicine to improve patient care. We are, today, the largest public healthcare cluster in Singapore with close to 6 million patient visits annually. Our work, therefore, will impact a significant number of patients and their loved ones and it is important that we continue to find new and more effective treatments and ways to help them.
Unsurprisingly, the genesis of our fundraising efforts was to help our patients in need. While there are many government schemes and subsidies in place, many of our patients still need support in costs related to their treatments. More recently, fundraising efforts have broadened to include research and education causes. As an academic medical centre, these are important areas as they enable our researchers to accelerate scientific breakthroughs to enable new treatments and cures as well as educators to impart new knowledge and skills to younger generations of medical professionals. Gifts to any of these three areas – research, education and patients in need – will make a difference in the lives of our patients not just today, but in the future.
Philanthropy also allows us to support initiatives that promote wellness and resilience in our healthcare professionals, which are important aspects that the COVID-19 crisis have brought to the foreground.
As the complexities of healthcare evolve, philanthropy will play an increasingly important role to ensure sustained improvements in outcomes for our patients and the way we deliver care.
Q: What are SingHealth’s key fundraising priorities and how will this impact the work that we do?
A: As part of our MedSG200 fundraising initiative, we have identified six strategic priority areas across the cluster that reflect the most pressing needs in the work that we do. The burden posed by two critical challenges - diabetes and a rapidly ageing population – necessitates that we focus much effort in these areas to look into ways to help Singaporeans keep healthy and age well. Through population health studies, we hope to gain insights into changing demographic and health trends, to formulate strategies and interventions that will help give us an edge in navigating the healthcare challenges. With rapid technological and scientific advancements, we also want to leverage the potential of genomics and personalised medicine as well as capitalise innovative solutions to drive healthcare transformation. As COVID-19 pandemic has shown, disease knows no boundaries. In the area of global health, we hope to strengthen collaborations with regional and international partners to exchange knowledge, elevate standards of care so that we are better able to respond swiftly and decisively to the next health emergency.
Of course, the breadth and depth of the healthcare causes that we champion go well beyond these areas and we are happy to discuss areas that resonate best with our donors and their philanthropic intents.
Q: As the Executive Director for SingHealth Fund, what are some of your own hopes or aspirations for the new year?
A: 2020 has certainly been a year like no other. We have learnt the importance of building resilience and witnessed the community rallying together in support of those affected by the pandemic and healthcare professionals who are at the frontlines of the battle against it. We are very heartened by the donors, staff and external partners alike, who have come forward to pledge their support even amidst these very challenging times.
As I reflect on the past year, I am delighted to share that the successful transition of the Changi Health Fund into SHF in December 2020, completes the journey which started in 2016. With this transition, we will be able to better synergise and share best practices on financial accountability, grant-making and fundraising for enhanced corporate governance and transparency.
In 2021, I see SHF in a unique and important position to do our part for the community that we serve. Health is an area which is close to everyone’s hearts. At the core, what drives SHF is the patients we serve. For this year, I hope to partner our stakeholders, donors and supporters to further advance the common good - create greater awareness of the need to support patients in their recovery, the urgency to accelerate research discoveries and the lasting impact of educating the next generation of healthcare professionals.
Q: In the course of championing healthcare causes for support, has there been a moment that has been particularly memorable for you?
A: One of the most impactful moments was when a former nurse at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) made a significant gift in support of the patients whom she has cared for. Growing up, she had spent most of her childhood in an orphanage and is a grateful beneficiary of financial support from anonymous donors. During her 12 years with KKH, she shared that she had encountered many patients with long-term illnesses who required continuous care and had also met parents of children who really needed financial support. As she had received so much support while growing up, she wanted to contribute back to help others in need. She was moved to give because, as a nurse, she saw, first-hand, how KKH provides genuine care to patients and trusted that her gift would be managed judiciously with accountable and transparent processes.
Another heart-warming story I have is of a grateful patient who was under palliative care and wanted to make a gift in appreciation of her doctor and team for their dedicated care to her. Through her doctor, she had made her the request known and the Development team later facilitated her generous gift in support of women's health research and education. As a gesture of expressing her deep gratitude to her doctor, her gift also had a lasting impact in enabling more research to benefit future generations.
Q: For an individual or organisation who is looking to make a difference, in what ways will giving to healthcare causes fulfil this meaningful intent?
A: I see giving to healthcare as an investment in a shared future. It allows us to translate today’s research into tomorrow’s cures as well as empower generations of healthcare professionals who will care for our children and their children. Beyond that, it also gives us the opportunity to show compassion to a patient at a time when he or she is most vulnerable.
Giving to healthcare is meaningful because each one of us has a personal story of a friend or loved one who had a serious health encounter. Your gift embodies not just the tangible and direct impact for those affected by ill health today; it also encompasses the hope of better health we all have for our loved ones tomorrow.
To read more about how you can make a difference by giving to healthcare causes at SingHealth, visit www.singhealth.com.sg/giving/why-give
In 2021, the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), SingHealth’s flagship hospital, celebrates its 200th anniversary. This milestone follows the announcement of SGH being ranked the third best hospital in the world by Newsweek in 2019, after The Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. SingHealth is proud to be recognised for our steadfast commitment to delivering world-class healthcare solutions.
Commemorating SGH’s bicentennial is an opportune time to mark the last 200 successful years of medicine in Singapore and SingHealth’s mission to advance medicine for the centuries to come.