How Covid-19 is changing life in our care homes
George Coxon, care home provider, speaks out about the plight of care homes, talks about how staff and residents are adapting to life in the coronavirus epidemic, and the importance of person-centred care.
Recent sad news about the effect of Covid-19 in care homes means there is a sudden new interest in our sector. We need to stay focused and calm – we will beat this. And we will do all we can to stave off the virus in the many homes which are still clear of it. We can battle solidly and resolutely to beat it in homes that have the virus.
Our priorities are twofold – keeping our people (residents and staff) safe is paramount. That means keeping families well informed, included and involved for those residents needing palliative care. The second is speaking out about our plight – being clear about the need for proper support and national assistance for PPE and appropriate testing. We need a national care home strategy urgently addressing low pay and a sustainable long-term plan in an integrated system.
Care homes are people’s homes. But we struggle to be seen in anything like the same positive ways as the NHS for what we do. We have thousands more beds, and more staff are employed in social care than in the NHS. We look after the most vulnerable people for longer. We know them as we do our own families, sometimes even better than our own families – the emotional bonds are so strong that dealing with loss and grief for those who die will be extremely demanding for our staff too.
Planning for all eventualities
In our two homes the approach is robust but sensitive. Reinforcing increased and intensified good habits, hyper-vigilance and restrictions of visits must not cause undue distress or alarm to our residents or staff. It’s ‘business as usual’ as well as redoubling enhanced infection control practices, being ever more diligent in sanitising and washing hands for example. We are taking regular temperatures of both residents and staff– not previously done as commonplace. This requires a kindly approach offering a reassuring word and smile, not a furrowed brow when carrying out a deadly serious ‘intervention’. The word intervention is one of those words that epitomises the difference between living life in a homely care home and being a patient in a hospital. We are getting through more hand cream than ever – for staff and residents alike - and along with our retained pampering days we are now adding creaming and massaging of hands to our nail varnishing routines.
There is no doubt the risk of catastrophising the spread of the virus is very real. We are currently in a nervous state of a calm trepidation – planning for all eventualities, sharing and learning from others, avidly following respected scientific advice & the daily ministerial briefings, whilst retaining a strong determined resilience for our ethos of calm and cheerfulness in our work. Being over prepared for the arrival of the virus is considerably better than being underprepared but overload of information and potential ‘fake news’ also carries great risk.
We are equipping ourselves as best we can with PPE. We have our own supply of ‘reservist reinforcements’ - people offering support for when we have staff missing due to illness or socially isolating. We’re thanking all those in touch for kind words and offers of back-up, with many making masks and offering to collect items as needed.
Combining safety and fun
One of the hardest and most important changes, of course, has been limiting visits. So far families and loved ones have been extremely stoic and understanding of this predicament. We are using new ways to keep in touch – getting technology to work for us, emailing very regular updates and sending pictures of brass polishing, plastic cup stacking, and other exploits that we know offer huge reassurance.
I have been well known for talking about how having fun in care homes is as important as being safe. See the set of articles I coordinated for the British Geriatric Society last year.
Now more than ever we must combine both safety and fun. Everyday life, although inevitably somewhat consumed by the fear of seeing the virus enter my two small non-nursing care homes, must maintain the light hearted, cheerful, good humoured atmospheres and routines so vital to health and wellbeing for all.
We know we will survive this terrible and testing time. The changes in care homes must and will not lose too much of the excitement of doing what we do well with enthusiasm, kindness and pride. Our legacy will be how we stayed strong and calm in ensuring our residents are still having fun at the same time as being safe.