I have never been so proud, during thirty years involvement, to be an operator in the social care sector as I have been since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in March and here’s why.
If we cast our minds back to the start of the year, few of us had heard of a coronavirus but stories had begun to emerge from China of a new threat that had a particular impact on vulnerable groups, including older people.
To be perfectly honest, we had no idea at that stage how severe the disease would be, but thanks to the awareness and foresight of my senior staff we started to do some scenario planning in case it affected any of our 700 residents and 1,100 staff across our 15 care homes throughout Scotland.
At that stage, like others, we suspected it would be more akin to a bad flu and planned accordingly. The team made sure additional PPE was brought in to cope with excess demand and also that our staffing rotas were robust enough to ensure that additional sickness absences wouldn’t leave residents without care.
When the crisis finally hit Scotland like a tidal wave and lockdown was imposed in March, we had already decided to move early to isolate our homes from the rest of the community, while putting in place enhanced safeguards for staff and residents.
In other words, our dedicated staff did everything possible to plan for significant disruption and keep the residents, many of whom are like a second family to their carers, suitably protected.
Yet the virus got into some of our homes anyway and its toll has been devastating.
So far a total of 48 of our residents who tested positive for coronavirus have sadly died as a result of the disease. The team mourns each and every one of them and will continue to do so as they work hard to keep others alive and well.
That raises a factor that’s discussed all too infrequently. Thanks to the skill of the care teams, a far higher number – 91 residents have tested positive for Covid-19 and made a full recovery.
We have dedicated, skilled carers to thank for this, along with the NHS teams who treated some of them for periods of time in hospital. They will all always have my sincere gratitude. Their constancy and dedication is why we turn out to clap for all carers each Thursday night and long may that continue.
As Scotland begins the first steps toward emerging from lockdown in the wider community, we mustn’t forget that care home staff and residents will have a different experience. Safety standards are, and will remain, of paramount importance as we continue to get this wave of the virus under control and stay vigilant for possible future outbreaks.
That means we need to turn our focus toward quality of life in care homes. Let’s not forget what proper protection feels like.
It means care staff forced to hide smiles and laughter behind face masks. It means the removal from residents’ rooms of any personal effects that might carry additional risk of harbouring the virus. It necessitates more isolation for a section of society that was often too isolated before the crisis.
As we move forward, providers, local authorities and the government have to work together to find new ways to make care homes homely again.
That may entail greater national investment in technologies and it will certainly involve adjustments to the physical fabric of many residences. Whatever the solutions, they must empower social care staff to focus on what they do best, which is looking after vulnerable people with warmth and humanity.
Sadly, while we are certain to lose more valued residents across Scotland’s care sector to Covid-19, we can’t lose sight of the fact that many more will be protected from getting the disease or in fact recover from its effects after catching it.
We owe it to them all going forward to make the lived experience of social care something of which everyone can be proud.
Robert Kilgour, Executive Chairman, Renaissance Care