'The world has changed but our care home is vibrant and positive'
Coronavirus has exacted a terrible toll on care homes with around a quarter of known Covid-19-related deaths in Britain happening in care homes. But there is a ray of hope among the gloomy statistics at one Cambridge home where no lives have been lost.
Cambridge Manor, on Milton Road, can support up to 89 residents in all stages of their later life with dementia care, 24-hour nursing and end-of-life care. On March 16, management decided to stop all non-essential visits to the home and they had no suspected coronavirus cases for the first seven weeks of lockdown. And when a small number of residents showed some symptoms, they were supported by staff in their rooms until they could rejoin the home’s community.
“We have had no residents pass from covid-related symptoms,” says Maria-Grace Smith, community development manager at Cambridge Manor.
“We had no positive cases for the first seven weeks of lockdown which was incredible – the team worked so vigilantly. We then had a few but all the residents remained in the home and were supported by the teams in their rooms until clear to rejoin our community.
“Any team member who reported feeling unwell was asked to stay home and get a test, when these were available, and we followed government guidance in relation to self-isolation.”
She says they suspended non-essential visits from March 16 “with a heavy heart, as we know how much families and friends mean to our residents” but they immediately established Skype communications so families could speak to and see their loved ones.
Cambridge Manor is one of a small number of homes run by TLC Care, which moved quickly to secure personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Paavan Popat, our CEO, procured plenty of PPE in the early stages so we haven’t had to struggle to find any,” says Maria-Grace. “All team members have everything they need to protect themselves and our residents. The support team have worked tirelessly, and still do, to continue to source PPE, hand sanitiser and everything we need.”
With coronavirus came a whole new way of working and staff underwent training and e-learning on infection control policies, handwashing guidelines, how to wear PPE and more. And they came up with solutions to problems caused by wearing face masks. Maria-Grace says: “This is difficult with our hard-of-hearing residents so we are using an app on our hand-held devices [for logging information on care plans] which translates what we are saying into bold text, which has been very helpful.”
Strict procedures minimise the risk of coronavirus coming into the home. Staff must use hand sanitizer at the front door, wash their hands in the reception area before touching anything, and have their temperature checked before going to the floor where they work and change into their uniform. All staff now take their breaks in designated rooms on the floors where they work rather than a shared staff room.
More than 120 members of staff cover jobs including unit managers, nurses (there is 24-hour cover), team leaders, carers, housekeeping team members, chefs, kitchen assistants, the maintenance team, wellbeing and activity facilitators.
Riet Jones, the home manager, says: “I am so proud of our team, they have all pulled together in the most extraordinary way – anyone who has developed a suspected symptom has self-isolated and we have been able to fill all our shifts with our own team members
“We haven’t had to rely on agency staff to help and this is a huge benefit. In these confusing times for residents, it is so much nicer to be supported by a person you know and trust. We can rely on our team members to take every precaution to avoid contact with other people outside of their home and work. Agency workers are wonderful people and very hard working but we want to minimise the amount of people who come in contact with our home and residents as much as we can.”
Maintaining a routine for residents and keeping up spirits is an essential part of the work. Dedicated wellbeing team members engage with residents in a variety of activities, including in-chair exercise classes and games, origami for dexterity, recently-introduced mindfulness sessions, and residents can experience a different world through a virtual reality headset.
VE Day was celebrated in style and after an initial decision to suspend visits from outside entertainers, Maria-Grace says: “We found a way to treat the residents – our garden can be accessed via the back gate which means entertainers can be in the garden without coming through the home, and play to the residents from a safe distance.
“All of the communal rooms that face the garden – three rooms on each floor – have floor-to-ceiling windows. We have had a saxophonist and Sean the Banjo Man who is very entertaining!”
Those important links with the wider Cambridge community have been maintained and strengthened over the past few months. The Stephen Perse Foundation and private individuals have donated face visors for staff, and Bellina Chocolate House on Bridge Street made sure residents and staff had treats to enjoy at Easter.
“One very generous man donated a tablet for us to use for Skype calls which has enabled us to support more residents to speak with their family. The generosity and spirit of the Cambridge community has been overwhelming and extremely touching,” says Maria-Grace, who adds that intergenerational contact has also been important for morale: “Children from the local area have written poems and sent some beautiful pictures to put smiles on our residents’ faces – which they certainly did.”
The name TLC stands for the company values of truth, love and compassion, and CEO Paavan Popat sent every team member a large box of fruit to share with their families.
“The world has changed, and Cambridge Manor has changed with it,” says Maria-Grace. “We are different now but still supporting our residents to live fun, active lives. We have the beautiful gardens that we are enjoying in the sun and the atmosphere is still the vibrant and positive one it always has been.
“We are still able to support new residents – for permanent or respite periods, in case they are in need of extra support at this time as they can’t get their shopping or are socially isolated.
“And we are actively recruiting. We have been able to start new team members since lockdown by doing phone interviews and online induction courses where possible.”
To find out more, visit tlccare.co.uk/cambridge-manor/, call 01223 363904 or email Maria-Grace at CDM@cambridgemanor.co.uk.