Aileen Beatty, Dementia Lead, Akari Care
Interviewing people who work in this sector has always felt a bit of a privilege, if I’m honest, but sometimes there’s a real upping of the ante when it’s someone who has been making their mark for nearly 40 years!
And so it is with Aileen Beatty – Regional Support Manager and Dementia Lead for Akari’s 32 care homes. There’s just so much I want to ask her, and so many aspects of a long career we could focus on given the number of jobs and environments she has spent time in, but I mostly want to know…why? Why dementia care?
“Well, I guess it all started with the first person I met with the condition…I was in the Girl Guides and to get a badge I went to work in a care home, and then I volunteered to go in on a Saturday morning and met a lady though I didn’t know at the time she had dementia. She gave me a little card with her address on and wanted me to go and visit her…always sat with her hat on waiting to go home. Eventually I realised she wasn’t going home, and that experience was the inspiration to begin what has become my career in care.”
Aileen’s journey has included working as an Activities Assistant, Modern Matron, Clinical Lead for a Behavioural Support Service, Inspector for the Commission for Social Care Inspection, Ops Manager for the Alzheimer’s Society and Inspector for the Care Quality Commission (CQC), and guess what? She’s still really interested in what she does. I suggest that perhaps that might be because she has moved around a fair bit…rung the changes every so often…
“Yes, I always want to be in a dementia specific kind of role, so that’s never changed but I think it’s all about developing and learning and acknowledging the feeling that you don’t want to get stale and stuck in a rut. Change has been roughly every three or four years. Basically things come along and you think that looks really interesting!”
And talking of interesting, what stands out for me from the innately impressive CV is that Aileen also worked on the other side of the fence…for CQC as an Inspector. How might she have felt about that – about the world of enforcement? “
Hmmm. There were lots of aspects I found interesting and enjoyed but I found enforcement quite hard and things had changed since I was last in the role: it had become much bigger and you rarely knew where you were going until quite short notice. And yes, we were there to inspect and regulate but there was now no possibility of a rapport with a care home – no relationship to be formed which could engender support rather than purely enforcement.”
Aileen readily explained that she often expected a lot and was pretty critical at times but that she saw how home managers have one of the most difficult jobs out there in a full-on busy environment. She admits to feeling a little guilty about the times she would go in and have a negative view:
“Hindsight’s a great thing, of course. We need to look at one another respectfully and supportively – recognise the pressure people are under especially now at possibly the most difficult time I’ve ever seen in care. There needs to be recognition of the challenges people face and see the importance of learning from one another and working together.”
With such a breadth of experience, what might be the secret to staying so interested in her field?
“It’s just a fascinating topic that can take you in so many different directions and you meet such amazing people – residents, staff, relatives – with never two days the same, and it’s probably one of the most complex areas of nursing. There’s A+E with all their machines and they can tell you when something’s going wrong but in this area there isn’t a machine that’s going to beep and tell you somebody’s about to become upset – you have to use your eyes and ears and heart and think about people and pay attention. It’s so complex and interesting. And yes, we know care is not always perfect but you think well, if I can do something to make it as good as possible…”
Aileen has been making it as good as possible for decades – inspiring, changing and touching the lives of literally hundreds and hundreds of people and perhaps all because an old lady once wore her hat every day, always expecting to go home.
By Debra Mehta