OCT 2020: Covid-19 and care homes

Care, Health

2020 has been a tumultuous and traumatic year and the residents and carers at UK care homes have been among the most seriously affected in society. Covid-19 is a disease which can have fatal consequences for healthy people, with the risk rising rapidly for the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. As the rate of coronavirus infection rises again in the UK, and with the winter months approaching fast, protecting people living in care homes is more important than ever. Every day, our care home managers are asked the questions so many of you want answering: are care homes safe now? Are care homes still in lockdown? Can care homes take in new residents? Can care homes have visitors yet? What precautions are you taking?

The answers aren’t always straightforward and are subject to change with circumstances, but we’d like to update you with the situation at Baycroft care homes.

Are care homes safe?

We can only speak for our own homes, of course, but thankfully we have no Covid-19 cases in any of our care homes. Testing kits, PPE and antiviral cleaning products are all more readily available than in the first few months after the pandemic began, which is a great relief.

Care homes are only as safe as the precautions they take against the virus being introduced, and there can never be zero risk. The onus is on care home managers, their staff and anyone entering a care home to follow government guidelines, follow strict hygiene rules and cleaning regimens, and encourage others to do likewise.

At Baycroft, we don’t take safety for granted. Below, we’ll explain how we are tackling the risk posed by Covid-19.

Are care homes in lockdown or are your care homes allowing visitors?

Our absolute priority, as you would hope, is the safety of the people living with us. At all of our care homes, we are guided by government rules, the Tier system, and our own precautionary approach. At the time of writing, indoor visits by relatives are not permitted. We are keenly aware, however, of the impact this has on everyone, in terms of isolation, loneliness and lack of family contact. Where physically possible and safe, and where local laws and rules permit, we have enabled visits in outdoor settings, window visits and even so-called drive-by visits, but restricting the number of visitors, always subject to distancing at a minimum of two metres and the wearing of suitable face masks. Visiting arrangements are largely led by the local government rules for the area of the care home. At any particular time, it is possible that only window visits are possible, or even no visits at all.

We have and will continue to respond to local circumstances on a home by home basis, however. If you want to visit someone living in a care home, please contact the manager of that care home directly. They will know exactly what is possible at the time you call.

If I can’t visit in person, how can I see my relative or friend?

One of the real benefits of a care home is the social environment it creates; it’s a wonderful way to combat the very damaging isolation and loneliness people can experience when living alone at home in later life. So, firstly, please be reassured that within our care homes social life continues as close to normal as possible. But contact with family, friends and the wider outside world is always important.

If face-to-face care home visits – even garden visits – aren’t possible at the time you read this (and do check, by telephoning the care home), then we’re doing everything we can to facilitate virtual meetings. Any resident can have their own phone and tablet, we have communal tablets available to those who don’t, and we’re delighted to set up online meetings using whatever technology you prefer: WhatsApp, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meetings, Skype, Facetime and more. To keep residents in touch with the wider outside world, we have piloted day trips in minibuses. These, too, can only be conducted within local and national government guidance and, of course, subject to each resident’s personal circumstances and health. We have managed to connect residents with community events online, too, using tools like Zoom to be present at church events, group exercise and so on. We’re also looking into virtual contact with local schools – our residents love a visit from the schoolchildren – and exchange of Christmas cards.

A digital meet-up can never be the same as seeing someone in person and being able to give them that hug, but it’s amazing how quickly everybody adapts to their family screen time, and just how much joy it brings. If you want to arrange a virtual meeting, don’t hesitate to contact your care home manager.

We’d love things to be back to normal and have planned specific rooms in each home to set aside and have already ordered screens which can be erected in our care homes so that as soon as it is deemed less risky to allow indoor visits, you’ll be able to visit loved ones without compromising their safety. Please check with your care home manager to find out the latest.

Are your care homes accepting new residents?

Yes, subject to availability, assessment for suitability and in a very safe and managed way. Even when the country was in full lockdown, new admissions weren’t completely banned. Each care home and each resident are evaluated on a case by case basis.

There may be circumstances in which the situation changes – if we were to have an outbreak in one of our care homes, it might be safest to delay new resident admissions temporarily, until that outbreak was firmly under control.

Of course, to protect our residents, it is not currently possible to visit and look around our care homes. We can, however, arrange virtual tours and meetings and – just like always – we’re happy to answer any and all questions you may have.

To find out if your nearest care home has availability and is open for new residents, please call the manager in charge. You can find the contact details for each care home here.

What is the care home admissions process now?

If a potential resident may be coming to us from a stay in hospital, we use trusted hospital assessors. We will speak with the family to get a good sense of current circumstances, health considerations, mobility and more – just as always – and would also discuss with any medical professionals if appropriate. A video call for a personal assessment is also preferred, because there’s no substitute for talking to a potential new resident face to face, yet we don’t want to increase risk to them or us. If someone is looking at transferring from another care home, we’ll work as closely as possible with that care home to carry out a full assessment.

Is there a quarantine period at your care homes?

There is, sadly, currently a 14-day isolation period for any new resident arriving at one of our care homes; the same applies for any of our residents who have to take a trip to hospital. If someone has tested positive, they would not return or move in until they had completed a 10-day incubation period. They would then be isolated for 10 days once they move in. These time periods are in line with the national guidance. Much as we would like to be able to test in advance and admit people who have a clear test result, the incubation period of the virus means that would be too great a risk for those already in our care.

During that quarantine period, the resident would be supported while remaining in their room, with staff bringing in services: food, care, personal hygiene and entertainment. We’ve managed to link up iPads and similar between the person in quarantine and the rest of the residents, for things like bingo, quizzes and so on.

Are care home staff tested for coronavirus? What about residents?

Yes. We conduct whole-home testing for residents once every 28 days, in line with government guidance. Staff – including any agency staff – are tested every week. If we were to suffer an outbreak, in addition to locking down and quarantining as appropriate, everybody in that home – staff and residents alike – would be tested for two weeks.

We take residents’ temperatures twice a day as a matter of routine, so we can monitor one of the most important and consistent tell-tale signs of the virus. Knowing our residents well helps here, because we get to know their individual behaviours, including coughs, mood and so forth, we’re vigilant for any health changes as a matter of course and would test promptly if any symptoms presented.

What are the PPE rules, hygiene and cleaning processes in your care homes?

Any packages, post, gifts or other items being brought into the home are wiped down with antiviral surface wipes. Antiviral and antibacterial gels and sprays are, of course, regularly used throughout our homes and always have been – even pre-Covid-19, hygiene has been important to maintaining residents’ health. The frequency of cleaning has certainly increased, however, and there are ample supplies of cleaning products in numerous locations around each home. You’re never more than a few metres from a product which would eradicate the virus on contact – albeit locked safely away!

Use of PPE (personal protective equipment) is, of course, vital to infection control. All of our staff wear an approved face mask at all times in our homes. Having long-serving members of staff and building trusting relationships with residents has shown extra worth, with face masks affecting the visual bond between us. When administering personal care – coming into contact with someone living with us – as well as their mask, the staff member wears an approved apron and gloves. This is the case even when sitting and holding someone’s hand. Of course, all items are replaced in between each individual being visited. If a resident were to be tested positive for coronavirus, or is in quarantine, staff will wear a face visor in addition to the mask and other PPE when visiting them.

The laundry of people being quarantined – or anyone testing positive – is handled separately, in line with well-established and trusted protocols for all sorts of infection control.

Any more questions?

If you have any further questions, would like to find out about availability in one of our care homes, or want to arrange a virtual visit with your loved ones, please give your local care home a call. In the meantime, stay safe and take care.