What has the impact of coronavirus been on care homes? I spoke with one care home director to find out about her experience.
What I Want You To Know About Care Homes Now
Since the pandemic broke out, care homes have come increasingly under the spotlight. We’ve heard about the rising number of coronavirus-related deaths, access to PPE and the resilient attitude of residents. But what is it really like now in a care home? We spoke with Michelle Williams, who runs Fairfield care home in Oxford to find out.
They’re Safe And Still Open
You can survive coronavirus in a care home – I know, because we are testament to that. Very early on, three of our residents who are aged between 75 and 90 tested positive. We had just gone into lockdown with no visitors but had recently taken a new resident straight from hospital. We knew that we needed to move quickly so everyone went into isolation in their rooms and we managed to contain it. We’re happy to say that all three recovered well.
Since then, we’ve applied a phased approach to try and safely reinstate some normality. The first step was to move into three social bubbles, dictated by the floor that residents are on, and we created separate dining and living rooms on each floor. The next step was for us to open back up the ground floor. Residents are now coming down to use the facilities there in their bubbles. Looking ahead, we hope to bring everyone back together. We needed to implement this stepped approach to re-opening, giving residents something to look forward to and reassuring families throughout this process.
The Staff Got Them Through The Pandemic
I put our success down to how well the care home team has thought ahead and planned during the pandemic. Right from the beginning the team has brainstormed and planned ahead, working out solutions that were right for us (which is lucky, as we’ve only just had specific guidance from the government!). We’ve had to take the policies and interpret them for what they mean in the care home.
One of our fantastic care home staff is working on her masters in psychology, and she’s volunteered to write up a paper on coping with Covid-19 in the care home. It will act as a refresher in the event of a second wave.
Communication Is Key
With the team, residents and families. We use a mass text service to rapidly update families about any changes. As a team we have stayed ahead of the game by discussing scenarios in line with government regulations to ensure we can cope if they emerge. Plus explaining everything to our residents is so important.
We Need To Keep Focusing On Overall Wellbeing
Our residents get along, and are a sociable bunch at the best of times. When we went into lockdown, we needed to keep spirits up and encourage activity. Our activities team gave everyone a weekly activity pack to keep them occupied, tailored to their personality and needs.
Our residents can’t get enough of exercise. Whilst we booked slots during those weeks of isolation for people to exercise alone in the corridors, we noticed some decrease in mobility, which isn’t surprising. Building this strength back up is crucial. We actually installed a path in the orchard during lockdown. One of my residents told me he was jogging round it – but had to stop to sit on the bench after each lap!
Protecting The Mental Health Of Residents
We have a monthly mental health risk assessment anyway, which helps us become aware if any changes to someone’s care plan are required. During this time, we have given extra support to residents. Our trustees have buddied up with them to have regular chats, often two or three times a week. We found that our residents didn’t always want to talk to their family too much about how they were feeling in case it upset them. So this support is welcomed.
Socially Distanced Family Visits
We’ve been talking for weeks about the best way to mitigate risk and allow socially distanced visits and our solution is drive-bys! We’ve got a long drive so we’ve set up a gazebo there. The family member parks their car next to it with the window down and the resident sits two metres away from them. We’re rigorous in our approach – people need to book a slot, answer health questions. Then on the day then get a temperature check and answer more health questions. If the resident can’t hear them from the car, they sit two metres apart in the gazebo with a face shield on.
We’ve Been Fine For PPE But Not Testing
Planning early meant that we had (and still have) good supplies of PPE. When someone requires barrier care because of symptoms, full PPE is required including visors. Visors can be scary and you can’t just turn up in someone’s room wearing one – you need to explain why it’s needed. Our residents know that if they have a cough they need to tell us, and we’ll then wear a visor to protect us all. It’s also hard for residents when we wear masks as they can’t hear us as well but we’re getting through it.
Testing hasn’t been easy which is crazy as we’re supporting the NHS by keeping our residents out of hospital. We’ve been able to get tests when needed but we’ve had to fight for them.
The Residents Are So Important
We love our residents! We had one lady with us who was about to start looking to move out of the care home and into her own new home when the pandemic struck.
We had a small property on the grounds which over the past few months we have turned into assisted living accommodation for her. Her daughter is able to visit her as she is in their support bubble and we can have a watchful eye over her whilst helping her stay independent. She receives care once a day and we order her medication and deliver lunch. But apart from that she is independent, cooking her meals and doing her laundry. And she’s thrilled to have moved into her own home at the age of 90!
Tips If You’re Considering A Care Home
Care homes exist because people need them. We help people as they get older stay happy, fulfilled and looked after.
Whilst the past few months have been extremely difficult, don’t put off a care home move if you think yourself or a loved one needs it. But make sure you know as much as you can about the home.
Do your due diligence and find the right one for your loved one. As ultimately a care home can offer so much more in terms of wellbeing and health.
Understand the process for admission and how well trained the staff are. Ask them questions about how they have dealt with coronavirus, how rigorous they are about temperature checking and procedures they have in place for managing the pandemic.
Find out about how they coped recently. We’re also not shying away from the fact that we’ve had some deaths over the past few months, but they were expected and not covid-related.
You can see this story and more over at ElWell.