Stow Healthcare’s experience is, on the face of it, statistically similar to care homes across the UK, with 40% of our homes seeing an outbreak. We too suffered from decisions made not to test residents upon discharge from hospital, and our staff, residents and families, like many of yours, have suffered loss and terrible anxiety. However, our COVID story is also one of tremendous learning opportunities, unbeatable teamwork, and one that has supported us, to not let COVID define us, but to let it help us move forward, stronger than before. These are our five lessons for success.
- Communications: Regular, clear staff communications, through innovative means, including a Daily Briefing, director vlogs, and memos were vital. We produced weekly vlogs and updates for families, easy read information for residents, and held successful relatives meetings on Zoom – we’d never had such great turn outs! I made it my job to watch the nightly press conference, and digest the latest facts, figures and guidance for staff – many told me that my briefing was the only update they bothered with!
- Learning and sharing: At the height of the pandemic, our twice weekly ‘Stowbra’ war cabinet meetings brought together management teams. Homes that had experienced outbreaks shared vital learning, and every home felt supported and part of the wider family. We also shared, and continue to share, all our learning with our commissioners and regulators connected to every home – making sure people feel informed is critical to your work.
- Advocating and supporting: we fought hard for our residents and for our staff – raising issues with commissioners and politicians when support was lacking. We also recognised very early on, the highly detrimental impact the pandemic was having on the mental wellbeing of all our staff. We made sure that everyone was talking about mental wellbeing, from directors down. As well as training managers in mental health first aid, we developed a new ‘Raise your Hand’ mental wellbeing pocket support guide for staff, along with counselling support.
- Data collation: By the start of April we had fully implemented the data management that proved vital to fully cope with the pandemic. It is hard to under-estimate how key data collation is – lists of symptomatic staff, results of tests, quantities of PPE, logs of adverse events, timelines of decisions, you name it. Once we harnessed the power of data collation, we could both control our pandemic management and analyse the effectiveness of our response.
- Getting systems right: during the pandemic, we forged ahead with our plans to change our electronic care planning system, plus introduce electronic auditing systems and now eMAR. You might argue this was crazy in a pandemic; it was the best risk we could have taken. By moving all our systems online, it ensured detailed oversight from senior management, who were able to drill into all required detail remotely.
We are hugely proud of our work. Since the start of March, we have required no agency staff at all at four of our homes, and very minimal shifts for one difficult week at our fifth home. Our staff have been keen to rally round, support each other and keep their homes as safe as possible. We have worked tirelessly to listen to our staff and really hear what they need. We have achieved so much in six mind blowing months – six months that have made me realise how strong the beating heart of social care is.
Ruth French is the Operations Director of Stow Healthcare Group Ltd, a multi-award winning family company, with five homes (three currently rated ‘Outstanding’) based in East Anglia.