Transforming the NKF… Leaving a Legacy

By Eunice Tay, NKF’s CEO since 2006. Eunice Tay was in legal practice before joining the healthcare industry in 1991. Among her posts was Special Assistant to the managing director of Parkway Group Healthcare and COO at the National Neuroscience Institute.

As a fifth generation Singaporean, philanthropic giving is an important value that has been embedded in, and embraced by each generation of my family. I had been taught to give back to society – to be a giver and not a taker.

It was always my passion to help the needy in society, thus, I joined the healthcare industry from my legal practice in 1991 and have remained in this industry for the past 20 years.

When the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal broke in July 2005 concerning its former CEO and Board on the mismanagement of funds, I followed intently, its developments in the news. At that time, I was chief operating officer at the National Neuroscience Institute.

In early 2006, the NKF was still reeling from the saga, with staff morale and public opinion at an all-time low.

With my experience in healthcare, I felt the need to help bring healing to NKF’s patients and staff – innocent people who bore the brunt of the public’s animosity. I also wanted to help rebuild the NKF so that it could excel in healthcare delivery and provide a higher level of service to the community.

Around this time, the NKF was looking for a new CEO. I applied for the post and was subsequently appointed by the NKF Board on 2 May 2006.

The turnaround at NKF for a leaner, cost-effective organisation was already underway. My first priority was to boost morale of staff and kidney patients. There was a need to connect with them so that they were not only “for you” but “with you”. If I do not take time to connect, I will not be able to lead them effectively. I made a point to thank staff for staying on during a turbulent time so that they felt appreciated.

I visited patients at the NKF’s dialysis centres located island-wide to shake their hands, give then a hug and to ask how they were doing. Many of the patients were depressed. They were unmotivated, some had a death wish, some were poor and they were going down the spiral of depression. I wanted to do something.

That was the motivation towards better patient welfare, such as the setting up of a medical social work unit to cater to patients’ emotional and psychological well-being. To me, happy patients are healthier patients. Intensifying patient welfare programmes also encouraged voluntarism as a way of life to help patients and a volunteer programme, Circle of Hearts, was introduced.

Through this programme, volunteers befriend patients by providing a listening ear and friendship to patients during their long hours of dialysis. They also help the neediest patients by delivering $30 worth of basic food provisions to their homes provided by the NKF. Volunteers also help transport patients to or from the dialysis centres and their homes as well as for hospital visits.

Through its enrichment programme, volunteers share with patients new skills and hobbies such as cooking and art & craft, as well as provide services like tuition and haircuts. We make it a point to provide and equip our volunteers with professional training.

To enhance the well-being of staff, in-house relationship-building activities were introduced to strengthen bonds among staff so that they support one another in good times and difficult times. It was important to elevate their spirits, make them have a sense of camaraderie and work as a close-knit family so that we could overcome the challenges and obstacles along the way.

I had to do all these and at the same time, keep operations going, deal with the fact-finding and queries, as well as restore public confidence. The management team were kept focused on fixing deficiencies and ensured that what was needed to be done was implemented progressively. We went about enhancing corporate governance and accountability; improving patient care; reducing operating costs and passing on the savings to patients; and improving transparency.

Five years on, we have gradually regained public confidence. Many religious organisations, corporations and individuals have come forward to continue their support towards our dialysis programme.

Today, the NKF is well on the road to recovery. However, there is much more to be done for it to become a top-notch, patient-centric healthcare institution.

With the increasing number of kidney patients turning to us for help, our plans for the next five years will focus on reducing dependence on haemodialysis facilities by promoting peritoneal dialysis (a home-based treatment); promoting kidney transplantation; encouraging early detection to slow down the onset of kidney failure; refining haemodialysis treatment to better meet patients’ evolving needs; and providing greater psychosocial support to patients.

Ultimately, it is my wish that a compassionate NKF not only gives life to kidney patients, but gives all the people that it touches in the community, better and fulfilling lives.