FuturArc Interview

Jul-Aug 2015


Group Chief Executive Officer, Alexandra Health System
Chairman, Board of Directors, National Environment Agency, Singapore

by Dr Nirmal Kishnani

The Singapore hospitals that Liak Teng Lit has managed as CEO—particularly Alexandra and Khoo Teck Puat—are seen to be game changers in design for healthcare. The latter has won multiple awards and garnered global attention, specifically for its use of plants and water to create a ‘healing’ environment. FuturArc editor-in-chief Dr Nirmal Kishnani catches up with Mr Liak, now chairman of Singapore’s National Environment Agency, to find out how decisions were made and directions forged.

NK: We are seeing a shift in the importance placed on greenery in Singapore. From an ornamental mindset—decorating the street or hiding unsightly things—greenery is becoming an instrument of wellness. Your role as CEO of several hospitals in Singapore is an illustration of this. When did the idea of the healing environment come to you?
LTL: After Changi General Hospital (CGH), I went to Alexandra Hospital (AH). It used to be popular in the 1970s but had stagnated and was left behind other hospitals. We needed to restructure and corporatise. Morale was low. These were extremely unhappy people—a lot of suspicion, moaning and groaning. In the first month I was there, Rosalind Tan came to me. She was the occupational therapist manager. She asked if she and a few nurses could do some planting in the hospital. I gave her S$200; she bought 100 packets of Canna. Lo and behold, within three months, we had a boulevard of Canna flowers at the entrance. I asked hospital staff if they liked the flowers; they said they did. I then challenged them to do their part. We soon had more people cleaning their own departments, some even put up plants. That was the start of gardening at AH.

A year later, the AH gardeners invited butterfly lover Khew Sin Khoon to give a talk on butterflies. I was in the audience and I challenged them: let’s go for 100 species of butterflies. A butterfly interest group came in and told us what to plant. Within a year we hit 60 to 70 species. Eventually it was 103, I think. That was how the butterfly garden got moving, quite spontaneously.

We were then asked to plan Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH). We choose this site—out of nine offered to us—because it was next to Yishun pond and it had the potential to be a nice, quiet, restful place. We told the architects we like greenery and plants. When patients are sick, they like greenery. The design specification for this hospital was that it should integrate nicely into the neighbourhood. We didn’t want to be a big bully, to overwhelm the neighbourhood. The building had to ‘humbly’ fit into the neighbourhood. We told the architects that we did not want a Pamela Anderson.

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