As visits to care homes are restricted to try and prevent the spread of Coronavirus, staying in touch with family and friends by other means becomes all the more important. Some care homes have risen to this challenge. Here we share some examples of care staff supporting older people in care to keep in touch with their families. If you have a story to share please get in touch.
When we changed our visiting policy to restrict visits to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we accepted that not being able to visit would cause some upset and difficulty to all concerned. We had a policy from the start to be honest and open not only with residents and staff but also family members.
The effect on residents and family members cannot be underestimated; not seeing your loved one for some time increases the level of anxiety and concern during a time when the media were running stories about very high levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths in care homes. We recognised the effect no visits may have had on some resident’s mental well-being. Where it was clear that anxiety from not visiting was a high risk when compared to the COVID-19 risk, managers facilitated visits in order to support those finding it difficult. In some cases families could do window visits, or visits through patio doors to individual bedrooms. These visits were only undertaken following a thorough risk assessment and with appropriate PPE worn by both the family and, if required, the resident.
One of our families commented: “It was lovely to return to the home today and visit dad. It had all been thought out extremely well and despite the restrictions, it was still a very pleasant experience. It felt very safe for dad, myself and your staff. So just to say a huge thank you to everyone for making this happen.”
Another family commented: “With all the news reports of the dire situation in so many care homes at the moment we are constantly thankful for all you and your team have done and continue to do for my parents and all the residents. We have found this situation extremely difficult but it has been such a great relief to us that we can be confident in all of you. When we have phoned everyone we speak to is so kind and nothing is too much trouble. We don’t underestimate how busy you all are and how much pressure you are under. Mum and Dad are so loving the garden, so please thank the gardeners.”
To counter some the effects of not being able to visit we introduced weekly newsletters. This included information about what was happening in the home, whether the home had cases and how they were being managed, reassurance that PPE was available, and what activity was taking place. We purchased additional netbook computers so homes could book Skype meetings with residents and families.
Telephone calls between family and residents became more frequent and the CEO contacted family members monthly to update them on the strategy we were adopting and later on our steps to move homes out of the lock-down and commence visits again, albeit in a gradual way. Homes are now having social distance visits in the gardens, moving towards inside visits but the lack of guidance from the statutory agencies means that this is probably somewhat slower than it could be, as we are testing each step thoroughly before moving on to the next.
Mum and dad, married 63 years, had never spent more than a night apart. When dad entered a care home, after suffering pneumonia and losing his mobility, mum had visited him every day. During lockdown, we went four weeks with no contact with him or the care home – as a family we were extremely worried about his mental and physical well-being. Dad has hydrocephalus and vascular dementia so change is often frightening for him and it’s important to keep family contact as he can start to forget the wider family. We understood the staff were challenged and many were off, due to their own symptoms or family illness.
With a combination of great advice from the Relatives & Residents Association, and local MPs, we were able to help persuade the care home to set up twice a week communications with dad and mum via FaceTime, and also for the home to produce a regular newsletter for relatives. A care worker holds the phone and repeats questions to dad, and reminds him who mum and my brother are. The relief it gives to mum to see him looking ok is immense and doing this twice a week, he now seems more ready for the calls.
The weekly newsletter gave us an idea of how the team were coping with the crisis and it is comforting to know they are on top of things. Although there are still cases and symptoms of Coronavirus at the home, my mum feels confident for dad to stay there as she feels the staff are doing their best.
My mum is 94, with vascular dementia and is in the final stages of kidney disease. She is in a care home 50 miles away but my partner and I had been visiting weekly, until visiting restrictions were introduced due to Coronavirus. Mum is deaf but has refused to wear her hearing aids. This made phone calls difficult but the staff were very good at putting her on the phone when we called. So I asked if we could organise a video call. I offered to deliver a phone or tablet but one of the staff, the shift leader, offered to use her phone with FaceTime.
So we booked a time and she facilitated the contact for mum. It was great! At first mum thought I was a photo but then she grasped that we could talk. She was very happy, said it was beautiful to see me! For me – it gave me reassurance mum was ok (she’d had an infection over the weekend) and enabled much more meaningful contact with her. Although I’ve tried to explain what’s going on to mum, I don’t think she really understood and in any event would have soon forgotten it. So the ability for myself and my family to have regular visible contact is comforting for us and of course, for her. It’s an extra task for the staff but I think it’s a rewarding one for those who are motivated to do it – and we can’t thank them enough.
Staff at the Old Rectory Residential Home suggested to residents that they write a message to their relatives which staff could put up on the outside of the home. In addition to supporting residents to keep in touch via video calling or telephone, the care home manager thought this would be a nice way to contact relatives.
Easter is normally a big occasion in the home, with local nursery school children visiting to do an egg hunt, but that couldn’t take place this year. Although the home had an Easter party, many residents were missing their relatives. So the manager sourced some rainbow paper and a laminator and suggested they write personal messages to their relatives. The response has been very positive, with relatives saying how lovely the personal touch was, and asking to keep the messages afterwards.
My husband is in a care home. He has a number of severe health problems, dementia, and mobility, sight and hearing loss. I last saw him three months ago, in January. I then had some health problems myself, meaning I haven’t been able to visit him since.
The activities co-ordinator recently organised for me to speak to my husband via video call. It was a joy to see him. He had a huge smile on his face and could share kisses with me! I have a recent photo of him and he looks as well and as happy now as he did in January. The home also sends general updates on what’s going on, usually via email. I have always felt able to phone or email the home manager, administrator or the chaplain with questions and we can phone and speak to a care worker at any time. I heard yesterday they are still virus free.
The last time I was able to see my husband he said as we were leaving ‘I love this place and these lovely people’. As he doesn’t say much at all now it was amazing and if I wasn’t with a friend I would think it was my imagination. It has given me peace of mind.
Moulsham and Southborough Home are using video calling daily so that families can have contact and see, as well as hear, their relative:
Video calling is so easy, and a free way to keep families in touch. We also support residents to record videos of themselves and send them to relatives to say hello. When it is someone’s birthday, we help them to send a photo to their family. For residents who would prefer to use a telephone, we use the normal house phone. We are receiving lots more calls since visiting was restricted, which is helping people to stay connected. Relatives can also call and speak to staff and get updates.
We are receiving support from the local community too. School children from the local junior school are sending us cards, initially to say Happy Easter, but also with messages of support, poems and crosswords. We’ve put these up in the lounge for all the residents to enjoy. A local nursery teacher also delivered some homemade cakes. It was a lovely gesture to let the residents know their community is thinking of them at this challenging time.