As we enter the autumn and a second wave of COVID-19 advances across Devon and the wider South West, albeit slower than in the rest of the country, we have redoubled our efforts to keep our residents and staff safe through the winter and we are very grateful for all the external support we have been receiving. We feel as ready as we can be for the next wave, but we do not under-estimate the challenges ahead.
Over the course of the summer, we’ve implemented a number of improvements designed to maximise our Infection Control practices and reduce the likelihood of the virus returning to The Croft. This includes: stock piling of PPE; repurposing a basement room into a staff changing room with a wash basin; buying new ‘wipeable’ furniture for all communal areas; and recruiting more carers so we can minimise our future need for agency staff who are likely to be working in other care homes. Our weekly testing of staff, and monthly testing of residents, also gives us a level of confidence that COVID cases would be identified quickly to minimise the chances of an outbreak taking hold.
We are very grateful to Devon County Council who, unlike many other English Local Authorities, has been quick to pass on additional funding from Central Government to help fund some of this essential investment. We are very aware that our experience of receiving COVID-related financial support is not necessarily the experience of care homes elsewhere in the country. Many local authorities have been very slow to pass on funding. To that extent, we do count ourselves lucky.
We’ve also received excellent support from various NHS partners who have helped with advice and tips for strengthening our day to day Infection Control protocols within the Home. A recent visit by experts at Torbay Hospital to review our Infection Control gave us a boost in confidence through their positive feedback, as well as providing a couple of areas for improvement we hadn’t considered. Other Government agencies have been equally supportive, especially the CQC which has passed on useful information about local infection rates in care homes, which in turn has recently led to us closing to visitors again, ahead of any official Government Guidance to do so.
We also count ourselves very fortunate to have received ongoing support from our residents’ families. Their patience and understanding with the restricted visiting measures we have had to implement has been amazing. We do our best to keep them informed, but the prolonged detachment from their loved ones must be incredibly hard to bear emotionally. We hate being gate-keepers and separating loved ones, as this role is so far from the reason so many of us went into care. But the positive way in which relatives have responded, despite their own disappointment, has helped us all enormously.
Nevertheless, we don’t under-estimate the challenges ahead. Not the least of these is in maintaining the mental health of our residents, most of whom have quite advanced levels of dementia and don’t always appreciate the reasons for the ongoing isolation from their families. Our team are working very hard to keep residents entertained to prevent boredom, and we have invested in new games and dementia-friendly entertainment. But, nothing can compensate for detachment from loved ones for an extended period, and we are worried about how this necessary isolation will impact our residents.
We therefore welcome the Government’s recently announced trial of a designated relative to be given ‘key worker’ status and be regularly tested for the coronavirus to make visits safer, amid concerns for residents who are deteriorating in isolation. Since it appears we will all be living with the virus for some time to come, we support any initiatives designed to provide for safe relatives’ visits and we intend to participate if the pilots prove successful. However, tests are only useful on the day they are taken, so the efficacy of this idea will be based on the speed at which tests can be turned around. The current average turnaround of 24 to 48 hours is still too long.
What must not be forgotten throughout the current COVID crisis, is the need for the underlying social care funding shortfalls to be resolved, rather than continually kicked into the long grass by Central Government. The early promise by this Government for a new approach to be announced before the end of the year has been dashed once again. Meanwhile, many care homes are now having to operate below their normal occupancy levels, as families look for alternatives to residential care during the pandemic, putting additional significant strain on their finances. The combined impact of reduced income and increased infection control costs has now accelerated the trend in closures of care homes in the UK, which will only continue until an improved funding model is offered to the sector.
At The Croft, we have bucked this trend so far and maintained our occupancy levels this year. As a specialist in residential dementia care, we look after people from the Newton Abbot area whose care needs are not easily met at home by a loved one, or home carers. We use expensive specialist equipment and invest in regular and repeat training of our care staff to enable them to provide the intensive care required. Therefore, demand for our service continues to be quite high through the pandemic. This has given us the confidence to keep investing in The Croft, on top of additional Local Government funding, to be able to implement all the improvements needed to keep residents and staff as safe as possible.
Looking ahead, we know we are in for a very difficult winter. But, with the ongoing support of our residents’ families, external agencies and our local authority, our team is as prepared as it can be for what’s coming. We just wish the same could be said for the whole of the social care sector, as our elderly and vulnerable deserve it.