For some care providers the coronavirus pandemic is nothing less than a living nightmare. What could be worse than trying to look after the country’s oldest, most vulnerable and most at risk with a rapidly-spreading, killer virus raging?
In more than 30 years of providing care, often in the most challenging of economic times, there has been nothing like the past few months to keep me awake. So, in terms of sleepless nights, where do you start?
I would say they split into three categories since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First, came the initial reaction to the start of coronavirus – how do we keep residents and staff safe? In my own care homes, we locked down earlier than we had to, aware that the biggest danger to our residents was people coming in from outside. But how could we justify that to relatives who were worried about their loved ones and wanted to see them? And how could we keep staff safe?
Second, came the practical tasks of making our homes safe. How can we get enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure we can care for people properly with this merciless virus banging at the door? It proved difficult as the Government placed all its attention on NHS healthcare, almost forgetting that big dangers lurked in social care, as was proved when the death statistics started to be revealed.
Accessing sufficient PPE and getting the right testing for residents and staff have remained two of the biggest headaches throughout and have never been fully resolved across the country.
The third, and possibly the biggest and worst of all, has come in the second half of the virus.
From the outset, there has been pressure to keep taking admissions from hospital, regardless of whether the patient has the virus or not, to ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed.
This has continued throughout and came to a head when the local authority asked us to accept a contract to take in Covid-19 patients from hospital to our nursing home.
On the one hand, we felt obliged to take in older and vulnerable people who needed somewhere safe they could be cared for. It was, after all, our contribution to the national fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
And at the same time, we had to keep our nursing home viable. In common with homes all over the country, we had seen a dramatic fall in new general admissions whilst staff and PPE costs had gone through the roof. The home could not operate viably for more than a few months without occupancy above 95%.
On the other hand, this was a conscious decision to bring in people who had Covid-19, inevitably placing our other residents and staff at some risk.
We accepted the contract.
Our decision has featured in the media and with that has come the criticism, some of it personal, that we are putting financial gain ahead of the safety and health of our residents and staff.
The critics failed to see that we were facing the toughest of decisions, an ultimate no-win situation.
It is well documented that financial support to help care providers like us through these difficult times has been slow and patchy to say the least. Do we keep our doors closed and see our income fall so dramatically and costs rise so high, that the future of the home was in serious doubt and with it the home of our residents?
Or do we accept the risk of taking in coronavirus patients and ensure the future of our home and the jobs of our staff?
In the end, taking in discharged hospital patients has not increased the number of other coronavirus cases we have had, and the standard of care has not been compromised. Indeed, we have many examples of where we have taken people in with Covid-19 and nursed them back to health so that they could return home.
So by accepting a contract to look after discharged patients and caring for them carefully and professionally, we have not only made our contribution to the fight against coronavirus but also remained in a financially stable position to safeguard the home, our residents and the jobs of our staff for the future.
This didn’t stop the sleepless nights, though.