Jagjit Singh Sekhon: A man larger than life

His father's passing words encouraged Jagjit to set up Nightingale Nursing Home in 1980 as Singapore’s first professionally operated nursing home with emphasis on care of the aged, chronic sick and convalescing. Two years later, he introduced Singapore’s first ambulance service operated by nurses

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| Singapore | 18 Apr 2017 | Asia Samachar |

Jagjit Singh handing over a cheque for funds collected for Nepal quake victims.
Source: Singapore Sikh Community

“Okay dear, where shall I send my ambulance?” These are the soft-spoken first words of Mr Jagjit Singh Sekhon when he receives a phone call either at his office or on his mobile phone. Founder, director and chairman of Nightingale Nursing Home, Jagjit is a man larger than life and a man who has given so much to life – to the lives of many others, to be more precise!

Known endearingly to community members as JJ, Jagjit grew up in Potong Pasir. Born into a family which owned cattle, he too helped in grazing and cleaning them. What took up most of his time, however, was walking around the village, especially during floods, to see how what he could do to help his neighbours. His commitment to this cause landed him the opportunity to serve as chairman of the Welfare Clinic in his neighbourhood. Service towards others featured very early in Jagjit’s life and it was here that he decided to embark on a career of a care-giver.

Recalling his school days, Jagjit candidly stated: “After Secondary Four, my father certified me unfit for higher education.”

However, he did pursue his higher education in a field of his choice and emerged with impressive results. First, he attended a course as a Hospital Assistant at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), which earned him recognition as a State Registered Nurse. He then trained in Psychiatric Nursing at Woodbridge Hospital (now, Institute of Mental Health) and went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for training in Tuberculosis Nursing. Finally, he returned to SGH to complete a Ward Administration Course. This marked the beginning of 17 years of service as a nurse and earned him the title of Singapore’s home-grown nurse leader.

However, life as a nurse was no lap of luxury. Jagjit was assigned to the operation theatre where working hours were excruciating and 20-hour shifts were the norm. Jagjit added that the public kept the operating theatres so busy that he and his colleagues spent nights sleeping on the hospital grounds in their on-duty uniforms. Analysing the situation before him, with the welfare of his colleagues in mind, Jagjit, together with other nurses, issued a notice of a pending strike to the Ministry of Health. It was only on the third day of the strike that then-Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, engaged the striking nurses. Jagjit came forward and asked the nurses to quieten down so that discussions could proceed and signalled to them to stop their agitation. Thereafter, Jagjit passed the floor to Mr Lee who told the nurses to prepare for arbitration.

Thus began six months of preparation of documents consisting of duty rosters, responsibilities, incidents and dissatisfactions of the nurses. Jagjit added: “We piled up all the papers and they were stacked higher than our tallest nurse who was six feet.”  It turned out to be a happy resolution for the nurses who received pay revisions and clearer definitions of their responsibilities. Jagjit also helped win arbitration for recognition of nurses who continued to develop themselves professionally with courses so that better services could be rendered to patients. Monetary incentives were given to nurses who adopted life-long learning through professional upgrading.

Jagjit Singh Sekhon – PHOTO / SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS

Looking back at the whole episode, Jagjit categorically stated: “I think the strike could have finished me off. The media was quite ruthless and the government could have put me behind bars. ‘Home’ could have been Changi or St John’s Island. However, I am glad that the government engaged us fairly.” Jagjit’s role as the champion for nurses then witnessed a sea change in the way the nursing profession was viewed in Singapore.

While working as a nurse, Jagjit’s father fell ill and slipped into a coma. A day before passing on, his father told him: “I can hear all that you and the nurses are doing for me. When I go, do something useful.”

It was then that Jagjit decided to run his own nursing home. The entrepreneur in him established Nightingale Nursing Home in 1980 as Singapore’s first professionally operated nursing home with emphasis on care of the aged, chronic sick and convalescing. Two years later, Jagjit introduced Singapore’s first ambulance service operated by nurses, which has now grown to a fleet of 20 ambulances in Singapore and three in Malaysia. Not surprisingly, Jagjit has also extended his ambulance services for medical evacuation abroad in places such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia for Singaporeans who meet with unfortunate incidents and need to be brought back to Singapore. This service is also extended to other nationalities who would like to seek medical treatment in Singapore.

On many occasion, Jagjit has provided his medical services free of charge. Apart from offering complimentary ambulance service to the needy as well as accommodation at his nursing home to the destitute and those without families, Jagjit has also allowed the use of his ambulance for national, community and charitable causes at no cost. At the same time, he makes generous donations to the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) as well as other related organisations.

Jagjit has also been active in serving the Sikh community. In his capacity as Chairman of the Sikh Welfare Council (SIWEC), he made it his personal mission to visit every needy family supported by SIWEC so as to ensure that help rendered was congruent with the needs of the families. This groundwork also revealed that funding was grossly lacking. Jagjit decided to harness the resourcefulness of those within and outside the community to raise funds.

One such instance was Jagjit engaging Singapore’s ex-President, Mr S R Nathan, to raise funds for the community. Mr Nathan’s book, Winning Against the Odds, was sold at S$10,000 a copy. A total of S$170,000 was raised to support needy Sikh families under the SIWEC banner. His other initiatives included the Welfare Day at the Sikh temples and Flag Days as well as supporting events such as the annual Ride-for-Charity cycling from Malacca to Singapore, which raises funds for SIWEC.

Jagjit is currently [2015] President of Khalsa Dharmak Sabha temple. One aspect of his leadership that is particularly striking is in how he galvanises every member of the congregation to do his or her part. For instance, he succeeded in achieving a win-win situation with the youth in the Sikh community by getting them to do their part with kitchen chores and cleanliness of the temple’s premises. It is now a common sight to see these youth at the temple doing sewa (service). As in the case with his service to the larger society via his professional portfolio, Jagjit also lends his support to various socio-educational and charitable causes within the Sikh community.

When Jagjit was the President of the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA), he reached out to the other communities by opening up sporting events to non-Sikhs. In his effort to project the Sikh community’s name in the sporting arena, Jagjit has been lending his support to Balestier Khalsa Football Club since its entry into the S-League. He is the current Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of the club.

Jagjit’s message of service is so simple yet so profound: “Everyone can help everyone.” Jagjit started his service to the community and nation almost half a century ago. His father’s final words of being of service to others spurred him to do even more. Even today, his father’s last words continue to ring loud in his ears and he continues to do useful things for those in need.
final-sg50-book[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published in 2015 by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]

 

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