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Caring during the pandemic - a care home's experience

12 Oct 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen much attention paid to the many tragedies in care homes across the UK as they dealt with large numbers of their residents being struck down by the virus.

Some homes, however, have managed to escape the worst of these experiences and are now in a better position to cope should a further wave strike this winter.

Julia Clinton, chief executive of The New Deanery and St Mary’s Court in Braintree, Essex, admits there was “an element of luck” which has meant the home has so far not seen any cases of coronavirus. But she said a lot of lessons have been learned in preparation for any future surge of COVID-19 in the region.

“We locked down on 16 March, before the Government said we needed to,” Julia said.

“We established a 24/7 senior management onsite presence so there was always someone there to support the team. That was pretty critical as everyone had a lot of questions. We’re a large site caring for up to 180 residents so that is a lot of people and a lot of staff to communicate with.”

Julia said being a large site also meant they had the advantage of having a lot of expertise on hand, including nurses and a matron who is an infection control expert.

“The wind was really blowing in our favour,” she said. “There was a period of about a month where we were getting nothing officially in terms of advice. That changed and then we had a tonne of it, but to start with we needed to row our own boat. So we set up an outbreak leadership team who met frequently and continue to do so.”

Julia said they took the decision to have a robust stance on admissions, while never saying they would not take on new residents.

“There was always a risk at the start with no testing and limited PPE,” she said. “But we spent a lot of time talking to the team, to families and to residents to explain what was happening.

“We have a 30-bed nursing unit and those staff were teaching the residential team about barrier nursing. We set up isolation units in case these were needed. We also had to consider the well-being of our team and have mental health first aiders to offer support.”

Julia said life felt a lot different now compared to March, and in July they reopened the home to visitors, but with strengthened protocols to protect everyone on site. Residents are allowed a 30-minute visit once every two weeks, with up to two consistent visitors for each resident. Visitors are asked screening questions, wear PPE and visits are supervised if needed. Staff are tested weekly and residents every 28 days. Julia said they had not experienced difficulty accessing testing so far. 

Hanna Wisniewska, a nurse at St Mary’s Court, said she was proud of how the team at the home had worked together during the pandemic.

“We did everything we could to look after the residents and staff, and the families agreed with the decision to shut the home to visitors,” Hanna said.

“This was difficult as it meant things like Mother’s Day celebrations couldn’t go ahead, but we could see what was happening elsewhere and knew what could be coming. We started preparing by buying in PPE so we were never short of equipment. Everyone worked together very well.”

Hanna said staff were working extra shifts but everyone was prepared to do what needed to be done to keep everyone safe.

“We are all just doing our best. It was hard and is still hard, but we did what we needed to do to stay safe and avoid the risks as much as we could,” she added.

There is a wide range of advice and support available to those working in care homes, the community and the NHS available on the RCN website.

If you’d like to share your experiences of working in a care home in the RCN Eastern region please get in touch.

Page last updated - 17/05/2021