Some of us you know well, some of us you see regularly, some of us you never see. We are the nurses, Occupational therapists, Psychologists, team leaders, senior care assistants, care assistants, chefs, Kitchen assistants, activity coordinators, administrators, receptionists, laundry assistants, cooks, cleaners, maintenance, those behind the scenes, the voices of the frontlines. These are our day to day and our extraordinary experiences.
My name is Liz McCabe, and I am the manager of Pennine Lodge, a Care home that specialises in dementia. Many of those who live here grew up and have lived in Todmorden and surrounding areas for their whole lives. There is a firm bond between the staff, people that live here and their families, and as such, we feel like a big family.
Mental Health of Young Staff
Many of the staff who work here are very young, and for some, this is their first job in care; other staff members have worked here for numerous years. Pennine Lodge has strong community links. Before the Pandemic, our ladies and gentlemen were very active within community groups, including Dementia Cafes, Singing for the Brain, Staying Well Project and had regular trips out to the local parks and beauty spots.
The demands of our service have changed during this Pandemic, as they have everywhere around the world. With those changes to the services have come changes for the people who run the services.
When the country locked down, lots of things changed that had a significant impact on our home. Hospital admissions literally stopped overnight; GP visits moved to video consultations only. The District and Quest Nursing Teams have been the qualified health professionals we have had intensive access to and received the most support from.
It has, at times, been very frustrating that our care staff have had to deal with highly complex situations that generally would be dealt with in the hospital. The Quest nurses have been amazing, and we could not have done what we have without them.
End of Life
However, with the Pandemic and restrictions placed on hospital admissions, we have had to work closely with families and health professionals to make tough decisions and advance care plans of what would happen should their family member become unwell. We have been heavily supported in these decisions, but there have been days when I have sat with my head in my hands and a very heavy heart and the phone calls seemed nonstop. There were times when the tension showed, and tears flowed. We had intense discussions, and my frustrations aired as it felt almost as if ‘End of Life Care Planning was going to be the norm.
We have had some people who have been very poorly, who had to be isolated, which was very difficult for everyone. Having to weigh up the risks to our other ladies and gentlemen, the person’s mental health and risks to contracting the virus was a tough decision. Still, we have been very fortunate, and most have made a full recovery. Unfortunately, there have been some people who have passed away, and their end of life passage was very different from the usual ways of working. This has been very distressing for families and staff alike. Visiting restrictions were lifted to allow family members to see their loved ones, albeit wearing full protective equipment, but sadly this has not always been possible due to families either living some distance away or shielding at home for their own health reasons.
Just a week or so ago, I watched two of our young carers; they were sat holding one of our ladies hands at the end of her life. They sat wearing facemasks, gloves and aprons, the requirements of Infection prevention and control whilst making sure she had human contact to the end because her family were not able to share her final moments with her. It was a very powerful sight and one that will remain with me for a very long time. These young carers then took a few moments to console each other and then went to support the rest of the ladies and gentlemen. The Deputy Manager and I spent a few moments looking at each other in disbelief that this was really happening and was this going to be the norm going forward?
The Mental Health of our Work Family
This virus has brought our work family even closer; it has indeed been devastating to us. We have lost people we thought of as family but are unable to attend their funerals due to the restrictions placed on them. As a way of being able to show families that we are thinking of them in their grief, and by way of paying our respect to the person who has passed away, the team have gathered at the bottom of the Driveway and clapped as the hearse went by on the final journey. The walk down and back up the drive is always a time for reflection by the staff, and often a time to share memories of the person who has passed.
Louise and I have been in awe at how well our team have coped, not just with all the emotional turmoil but all the added strain, mental and physical it has put them under. Getting up every morning, knowing that you could catch this virus but still coming into work with a positive attitude, is humbling.
One of the things that have been imperative throughout is the recognition that life goes on and that we have an incredibly important job to do in very complex situations. The staff have been steadfast in their professionalism and resolve at giving the best care. So, while there is a time to grieve, there must be time to lead. Some days it has felt like an impossible task, but for the most part, we have allowed ourselves time to acknowledge what is happening, but then compose our emotions and frustrations and get back to the job of delivering the best care possible.
Some sort of Normal to Help our Mental Health
Most of our ladies and gentlemen have dementia and as such are unable to understand what is happening or why their visitors have stopped coming to see them, and so it has been down to us to ensure we carry on with some sort of normal.
In order to maintain a sense of normality for the people in our care, we have engaged with a local school through Healthy Futures Calderdale setting up a Pen Pal Scheme and have received many letters from local children. Over the Easter Period, we were visited by Thingamagig Theatre who played instruments and sang songs in the gardens so that we could watch through the window and we had a visit from a local church group who shared the Happy Easter Message by way of Banners of Rainbows, chatting to their friends through the window.
VE day was celebrated by means of a Tea Party in the garden with music and entertainment on the grounds from Those Magnificent Men, who rode a Penny Farthing Bicycle decorated as an aircraft.
Facing a Storm
This team have stood in the face of the storm and never wavered, held their heads high and kept our ladies and gentlemen smiling and laughing even when I knew they were scared; they never let it show. I’m absolutely certain that the Pandemic has taken a toll on their mental health; there is no denying this; the Senior Management at Towerview Care has brought in a counselling service to make sure that every member of staff has the opportunity to talk to a qualified therapist. They believe it is vital that all our staff are afforded the time and space to grieve, talk and understand their feelings. Their mental health is vitally important, and in order to safeguard our team for their future, mental wellbeing we must make sure they have the right support now.