Coronavirus conversation with Louise Duffy

Staff and staff and trustees at Abbeyfield celebrate their Care Home Service of the Year Award in 2019. PIcture Iain Ferguson.

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Louise Duffy,

Care home manager Louise Duffy reflects on how the last four months have been for the 30 residents, their families, 51 staff and others in the community who have been supported by Abbeyfield Ballachulish.

It’s been hard. Since leaving a local resilience meeting on Friday March 13, my head buzzing with what needed to be done, we’ve been constantly ‘looking ahead’ and
eating, sleeping and breathing the requirements placed on us by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s been a stressful roller-coaster ride of balancing the best interests, well-being and human rights of residents, with the response required by wave-upon-wave of guidance from government, public health, Care Inspectorate and the NHS – sometimes having to pause and remember this is not a hospital, nor principally a workplace. It is home for our residents.

Our fantastic staff have adapted quickly and professionally to the constant, ongoing changes to information, instructions, protocols, work patterns and practices. They have been amazing.

The safety and well-being of our residents is always our top priority. Closing our doors to visitors a week or two before being instructed to do so was a really tough decision. But, by that time, we could see the devastating effects of Covid-19 in care homes in other countries.

We’re grateful to our voluntary board of trustees, residents, their relatives and our communities for trusting our judgement and showing patience, understanding and support throughout these challenging times.

Keeping loved ones and residents connected is another priority. It’s been three months of Zoom, Skype, Messenger and phone calls, as family and staff keep vital connections going for residents.

Our staff also need to be safe and supported. Monika, deputy manager, and I altered our working shifts to have one of us physically on-site every day, not just at the end of a phone. Providing safe transit for staff to and from work in our minibus avoided the risk of using public transport. We’re all passionate about maintaining a Covid-free home.

Despite suspending our day care service, we didn’t furlough the day care staff. Instead, they have been supporting our activities co-ordinator and the care team and provide personalised activities for residents. They have also kept in touch with our day care clients. We also carried on providing meals to some community lunch-club regulars.

Activities have been tailored to individuals but we’ve also created opportunities for safely connecting including corridor sing-songs and pen pal exchanges between our residents and a care home in Forfar.

Our community has made us feel appreciated. Gifts have ranged from welcome hand-cream to delicious baking. Good for our hands – not so good for our waistlines. We’ve had donations from local businesses of 3-D-printed visors and hand sanitiser. A box of personal protective equipment came all the way from a well-wisher in Hong Kong.

Separation has been one of the hardest things. When garden visits for one designated visitor were allowed, we felt nervous. Everything was in place safety-wise but some people who live here are very ill and have noticeably declined or lost their spark: hard to bear for relatives and staff.

When residents re-united with their visitors, at a safe physical distance, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

We’re now into the next phase of restrictions being lifted. Eating areas have been set up with spacing in place so that residents can eat together again and chat over a meal.

It’s been different. It’s been emotional and it’s been tough at times. We’ve experienced non-Covid-related deaths and other difficult situations. But it’s also been a time of caring. Everyone has supported each other and shared the load to ensure people don’t feel isolated or alone.

Hopefully, this crisis will have drawn attention to the under-valuing and under-funding of health and social care services in this country and people will now support the vital work we do, demanding a better future for our sector, for the people we care for and for our staff.

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