Article originally published in Sassy Mama Singapore on May 13th 2019.
With the recent tragic case of Baby Jane Allas, we wanted to share with you another reaction from an employer whose domestic worker was facing a similar situation. Read on for her recommendations to fellow employers of domestic workers.
Christelle and her family have been living in Hong Kong for 12 years. They have two young children, ages 8 and 4, who were both born in Hong Kong.
Christelle works full time and sometimes long hours. Her husband started his own company and is also working full time away from home, so they heavily depend on their domestic worker.
Both children have medical conditions which require careful attention from the caregiver. Hiring a domestic worker who is healthy, conscientious, dynamic, reliable and attentive to the children’s safety and needs was one of their major concerns.
The couple hired a 38-year-old Filipino domestic worker in 2017 called Janice. She’d been working for them for a year when she started to feel pain in her breast.
The news and the following months
Janice found out she had breast cancer after she went for a check-up at the Tung Wah hospital due to the persistent pain she was feeling. The public hospital reacted quite quickly, proposing a date for the surgery two months later. Her sister, who was also working in Hong Kong, attended all of her medical appointments with her.
Meanwhile, Janice still had one year to go until the end of her contract with Christelle’s family.
Janice was devastated when she got the news and naturally thought about her children back home. Christelle and her husband reassured her that they were going to support her during her treatment. Unfortunately their insurance covered “any” emergency — except for cancer. So they had to cover all the medical expenses themselves.
J’s sister had also a history of fibrome which disappeared with plants and massages. Her sister insisted that J saw that same doctor she received the plant treatment from once she started to feel the pain in her breast. Her sister seemed to have played a crucial role as she pushed her to see that doctor (about S$60 twice a week for three months). Those expenses were covered by the employers.
The operation and treatment
J spoke to her family about chemo treatment and the operation. Her family put a lot of pressure on her, saying that if she did chemo, she would lose her hair. She got scared and refused the operation on the day the operation was supposed to take place. She simply did not show up for the operation. The employer realised afterwards that she did not go to the hospital. They realised later what was happening and had to talk to her, abruptly telling her that realistically, she could not be cured with plants – she had to have the operation.
They had to force her to go back to the hospital to see the doctor in QMH, who was able to reschedule the operation for 15 days later.
The employer had regular discussions with her during this period and discovered the pressure that her family had placed on her. They felt overwhelmed by the urgency of the situation and the fact that her family did not really play a supporting role, and almost jeopardised her life. They learnt, in the meantime, that the cancer had spread to her throat.
Finally the operation day arrived and J stayed in the surgery unit for 7 hours.
After the operation, she underwent six months of chemo and radiation therapy.
During her treatment, she was unable to work one week out of four. J was speaking easily with her employers during that period. She realised she was receiving a good level of treatment in Hong Kong, and preferred to stay there rather than return home to the Philippines.
Later after the treatment, she went back home. When she returned from the Philippines, she was shaken to hear about a fellow domestic worker from the same village who’d had breast cancer but had refused treatment. She died a few weeks later.
The logistics surrounding her illness
Christelle and her husband knew that Janice would be unable to cope with her work while having the heavy treatment, so they had no choice but to hire another domestic worker. Their other domestic worker, M., started with the family a couple of weeks after J’s operation.
The relationship between the two domestic workers was not great. But the second helper knew that it was temporary. In fact, the family discussed with Janice and they agreed that once the contract was finished she would find another family, health permitting.
But the main concern was that they would work as well as possible together. They needed to manage their time together and the balance was quickly difficult to maintain considering the circumstances.
Janice’s contract reached an end last year and she found another family to work for. They are still in touch. Today, thanks to her employer and the high quality healthcare she received, she is fine.
What to take away from the experience?
When I asked Christelle what she had learned from this experience, she answered “The satisfaction that Janice is cured and that she continues to support her family, as was her choice to do”
Their advice for employers encountering the same situation:
“Communicate well with her. It is very important to keep reassuring her on the fact that she would stay until the end of her contract and that she will get good medical treatment. We had small children so we had to take someone else but we never had a doubt about keeping her until the end of the treatment.
Beware of medical practices that can be harmful for their health and discuss the treatment and her medical appointments with her if you can’t accompany her. Ask about her family back home – how they deal with the news and if they support her.”
Additional tips for helper healthcare in Singapore:
- Make sure your insurance is up to scratch – the bare minimum will probably not be sufficient should your domestic worker require treatment in hospital. Many insurance plans are less about the health of your helper and more about helping the employer.
- Think about what you are able to help with financially, should there be a negative outcome.
- Discuss with your domestic worker the possible outcomes, and what would happen.