Caring in a time of coronavirus

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It is a sunny day in Benderloch and the gardens at Etive House Care Home are in full bloom.

Across a window a large colourful message shouts: ‘In this together’.

At the front doors, a ‘care crow’ stands guard to give staff a smile as they arrive for a 12-hour shift.

Welcome to the front line.

Etive House is one of the biggest care homes locally, with 67 staff – care assistants, senior care staff, maintenance staff, kitchen staff, admin workers and the NHS – all coming together here from places including Oban, Dunbeg, Benderloch and Kilmore.

Home to 41 residents, ranging from their mid-80s to 100 years young, some have dementia and all of them are ‘vulnerable’.

Yet 10 weeks into lockdown and the home has not had a single case of COVID-19, nor have any residents or staff been symptomatic.

Official figures say around 1,600 care home residents have died – accounting for nearly half of all confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Scotland.

There have been 5,800 suspected cases in care homes in Scotland and 61 per cent, or at least 665, have reported at least one suspected case.

But not Etive House.

Etive House care home manager Georgina Taylor.

Manager Georgina Taylor greets me at a distance and wears a face mask and has a bottle of hand sanitiser hanging from her belt.

She leads me into the grounds and tells me it’s all about ‘luck’.

‘I am extremely grateful of people’s comments that we have not had an outbreak but I think we need to be very careful,’ said Georgina.

‘There has been a narrative created that homes are ‘stopping’ COVID getting in. COVID is a virus and it’s invisible. You can’t stop it and you don’t see it. It’s not a mugger running behind you. Ultimately no person and no action will ever stop an invisible virus getting into a building.’

Aged 44, she has worked in care since she was 16 and started here in 2017.

She accepts the early intervention of the home’s parent company, Care Concern, has also played a part in keeping out COVID.

On March 12, it instructed a lockdown of its UK homes and began screening – a full 11 days before the address by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Georgina, now of Dunbeg, is keen to praise the dedication of her team who have adapted to working in a sector where the killer bug can run rampant.

Social distancing, strict infection control and tight procedures over who does and doesn’t step foot inside a home, have all been religiously learned and observed.

Staff are ‘scanned’ on arrival via a ‘non-touch’ thermometer. Anyone with a temperature of 37.8 or above is told to go home and self-isolate.

‘We’ve not had that,’ says Georgina, barely able to contain her relief. ‘That hasn’t happened here.’

They now have to ‘witness’ each other hand-washing. They change into uniform on site.

Face masks, aprons, gloves and goggles are handed out. They have also been trained to carry out swab testing of residents.

Etive House care home team. Left to right: Nicole Rutherford, Gill Fairclough, Russell Martin. Front: Michelle Ward and Arfon Jones.

A handful of staff are taking part in our photographs and they all agree on one thing:

‘Everyone here has pulled together – they really have.’

The team includes activities co-ordinator Nicole Rutherford, 22, originally from South Africa and now living in Oban, long-serving Russell Martin, 40, the home’s maintenance officer and senior care assistant Arfon Jones, aged 28, both Oban.

Michelle Ward, infection control lead and senior care assistant at Etive House care home.

One resident of Etive House is considerably younger than the rest. Senior care assistant Michelle Ward, 30, moved into the home, which meant leaving the flat in Oban she shared with two friends.

Michelle, the home’s infection control lead, shrugged off the sacrifice.

‘As long as the residents are safe, I’m happy,’ she said modestly.

Georgina said: ‘I am unbelievably proud of the sacrifices they are making. Just to come to work, they are putting themselves at risk. They do it every day with a smile. Everyone’s attitude has been fantastic.’

The sign says it all.

Under the restrictions, residents cannot socialise together or have family visits. So the home has used its gardens and embraced Skype and Face Time.

Facebook videos have been used to keep family members in contact and donations of iPads have come in from the community.

During clap for carers, residents living near the home have generously directed their applause towards it.

The outpouring of public recognition has brought tears to the eyes of staff watching from behind curtains on the late shift.

Etive House staff Joanne Silverman and Laura MacLean share a smile with ‘Bob’ the policeman.

Accordion player Duncan Campbell and piper Emma Hill have come into the grounds to entertain – drawing delighted residents to their windows.

Etive House Care Home in Benderloch.

Dr Kath McElroy from the surgery at Connel is name-checked for her ‘fantastic support’ and so too is NHS community team leader Gill Fairclough who told The Oban Times: ‘The staff here have gone above and beyond.’

Etive House knows COVID is not going away soon but it is determined life will go on.

‘Should it unfortunately get into the building, we will manage it like everything else,’ explained Georgina.

‘We will deal with it calmly and with confidence. Residents will still need a quality of life and my priority is not to let COVID swallow the home up.’

Karen Baird, of Connel, has her father in its care and cannot praise it highly enough.

‘The communication ensures you are kept aware of your loved one’s health and well-being. That gives you great confidence that they are in the best caring hands you could possibly wish for.’