Opinion

Recovering from Covid

Jon Olsen, Operations Manager, PJ Care
The Covid pandemic affected PJ Care in a number of ways, but most striking was its impact on our staff numbers. Because of precautionary self-isolation, we had up to 30% of our 550 staff off at any one time.  Our care and housekeeping teams were particularly affected and we, no doubt like many care providers, had to implement an immediate recruitment programme. We were fortunate in that we have an in-house recruitment team.  We also had a staff member who could step out of their day-to-day role to take on the task of interviewing what turned out to be more than 100 people.  Plus, we had a PR agency in place, already doing work to raise awareness of our neurological care centres in the local community.  They were ready to support us with media coverage and targeted ads on social media. What we learned from this was that even in times of crisis, when we needed to maintain care for the most vulnerable client group, recruiting to our values was still key.  We were not afraid to turn down people with the right experience but who didn’t fit with our values of care, compassion and commitment. We did take on many who’d only been informal carers but who had the approach we were looking for.  So, our new recruits included a financial director, a magician, a hairdresser, a personal trainer and more.  Some of these people have stayed with us which shows we chose them well. Our residents at PJ Care have a range of degenerative neurological conditions and acquired brain injuries.  Because of their vulnerable status and for some, their high level of medical need, we always carry at least six weeks’ worth of PPE. This stood us in good stead when the pandemic started – we already had strong supply chains in place.  However, when supplies became more difficult to source, our procurement team were ready to explore new avenues, sometimes answering emails at midnight to get protective equipment that would keep our residents and staff safe. A cohesive approach has been central to ensuring the smooth delivery of care.  The board consulted with the senior team on a daily basis which meant we could make quick decisions and get feedback on outcomes.  One example is the consideration of using Government Infection Control Funding to pay for a suitably qualified individual to undertake regular and routine testing of staff and residents. We have also found from our own audits that the most effective method of preventing infection is the use of face masks. This will continue for the foreseeable future. Keeping residents occupied has been a challenge.  Our client group is relatively young and they enjoyed going out into the community, going shopping etc. We rose to the challenge by creating a bespoke weekly online show in which the host took their requests for songs.  The personal element was something everyone loved and we continue to run the show now. We’ve offered new activities such as a cookery group, created online accounts to allow residents to enjoy shopping and we maximised the use of outside space by creating gardens on the balconies. Staff care has become a greater focus for us over the last few months.  Our team have been wearing full PPE since March and the units within each centre haven’t been able to interact as they normally would.  It is taking its toll. We’ve installed air conditioning to help on hot days and offer a dedicated minibus to bring in staff who don’t want to use public transport.  Small treats and messages from the chairman also help them to feel valued. Our central office staff and senior management team moved to work from home, reducing the risk of infection and the amount of valuable time spent on the daily commute. Perhaps our biggest learning from the pandemic has been to trust ourselves.  We found that throughout, we were always ahead of whatever official advice and information came to us.  We understand our residents, we are confident in our procedures and protocols and we are best placed to make decisions that impact on their care and safety.    

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