Nick Chisnall, Regional Director for the South East for Consensus Support looks at how the pandemic has impacted how providers admit people into care services.
The pandemic has tested the resilience of every one of us. And, it goes without saying, that the care sector has been most tested. However, I have been humbled and amazed at the way Consensus teams have adapted so that life could carry on as normally as possible for the people we support.
Working methods had to change, almost overnight, so that we could safely and effectively continue to support commissioners, individuals and their families. Finding new and safe ways of working was vital if we were to enable people to move into our services. In fact, we completed some of our newest supported living services during lockdown. But how did all this impact the assessment process?
The shift to virtual meetings
The people Consensus supports are living with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs. In normal times our teams would meet with individuals and their families and their social worker to get to know the individual, their needs, interests and goals. Lockdown demanded that these meetings shift online, so we used video conferencing software, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and organised ‘visual tours’ of services on ipads.
Video conferencing brought its own challenges. Individuals might not engage with someone they see on a laptop. It may even cause them anxiety. The answers to important questions of compatibility, personalisation and choice were harder to get to. But, in such situations we simply worked more closely with the individual’s social worker and family, and colleagues in our Positive Behaviour Intervention team, to ensure the move to a Consensus service was in the person’s best interests.
There were some technology issues too. It’s easy to forget that not all families have internet access or the technology to be able to join virtual meetings. It was also harder to access the different professionals that needed to be involved in the care assessment process. At the height of the pandemic, Learning Disability nurses and social workers were often focusing on high risk crisis work or working different shift patterns. All this only made us more determined to work closer with everyone involved, adapting to their challenges to keep the process on track.
Recognising the benefits
I think there are some important positives to take away from the pandemic experience.
We now have stronger working relationships with local authorities and social workers, as well as the families we’ve connected with during the last 18 months. And, while we’re now free to get out and about to do care assessments, videoconferencing makes some of the process faster and more efficient.
Throughout it all, our teams have continued to keep wholeheartedly to our ethos of delivering the highest quality, person-centred, strengths-based care. We’ve continued to admit new individuals to our services safely, and they’re now thriving with our support. Indeed, many of our teams made huge changes to their services so the people we support could continue to enjoy meaningful experiences. One service installed an above ground swimming pool so a supported individual could have his regular swimming session. Another service created its own American-themed diner so residents could regularly ‘dine out’.
This creativity has been the key takeaway of the last 18 months for me, and it’s what we’ll continue to champion as we move back to business as usual. Innovation and creativity – whether they come from our colleagues, supported individuals or their families – is what will take Consensus to the next level, making our services places where the people we support feel involved, empowered, and free to thrive.