Covid-19 Diaries. Care Homes

22 April 20

Posted at 10:15

Chase FarmChase House

I cannot speak with any authority or professional knowledge about care homes of course but care homes have been a hot news topic in the UK for the last week or ten days so it is worth me recording that fact and in doing so share some personal experience and anecdotes. I mentioned in a previous blog that there is  a care home about half a kilometre up a track next to my house. The building that is now the care home was originally a farmhouse, Chase farm, and in fact my own house was originally a farmworkers cottage attached to the farm. The actual farmhouse was sold separate to the farm many years ago, around 1960 I believe. When I was at school in the mid sixties a friend of mine actually lived in the house although at that time I did not live in Arlesey. Fast forward about twenty years and we had purchased our house from the estate that still owned the farm and another acquaintance owned and lived in the farmhouse, now known as Chase House. I remember quite vividly a party I went to in the house, it must have been the early '80s as the guy who lived there had a CD player, none of us had seen a CD before. I remember people stubbing cigarettes out on the few CDs he possessed just to prove they were indestructible, which of course they weren't. I've no doubt some of us will need the services of care homes one day as a result of such parties!

Chase House Care HomeChase House Care Home

The private house went on to become a care home and over the years the building has been dramatically but tastefully extended to three or four times its original size. It is a privately run care home and I believe it has maintained good ratings in terms of the quality and breadth of care it provides. I know people who have had relatives live there and I know people who work there. I've not really heard anything but praise for the care provided and I have the greatest admiration and respect for those carers who work there.

As I said earlier care homes have been a hot topic in the news recently. News nowadays consists of 90% plus related to the coronavirus pandemic. It is wall to wall, it is dynamic and increasing it seeks to apportion blame. Our government is receiving criticism about the number of deaths in our care homes. Personally I feel the only area we can confidently say the government, although strictly speaking it is the previous government as we recently, just last autumn, had a general election. The previous government(s) were responsible for financial cut backs that were severe, had they not been so severe perhaps we would have been better able to respond to this pandemic. Beyond that this present government were in the process of reversing some of the austerity we have experienced. The pandemic though struck too soon for there to be any effect. I am cautious to blame the government for the desperate situation we see in our care homes for a number of reasons:

  • First of all care home residents are by nature elderly, many have underlying health problems, they live in quite crowded conditions with much communal activity. When visitors were allowed earlier in the pandemic they arrived often from fair distances away. Residents are often not located in a home close to their relatives. These factors alone make the care home environment ideal for the virus to spread. Social distancing is nigh on impossible in the average care home.
  • The private sector accounts for a large number of care homes from big corporations managing multiple homes to smaller privately run homes. These are all businesses and in many cases quite profitable. Yet it feels as though the finger of blame for any lack of preparedness points at the government as opposed to the business owners.

Today the senior medical officer Chris Witty expanded on my first point above. I have not seen figures but I strongly suspect that in years when we have bad flu epidemics and winter vomiting outbreaks, care homes see a disproportionate level of fatalities. In reality care homes see a disproportionate number of fatalities anyway. For many the period spent in a care home leads up to and includes end of life. Of course this does not belittle in any way the horrendous situation we face in our care homes at this time made even worse by the fact that care home residents die alone without their family being able to visit.The role of the family is taken up by the already overstretched and I suspect quite frightened care staff. In reality they have done this before on a smaller scale as some people are in effect abandoned with no relatives when they are in care. Never on this scale though and never under the shadow of Covid-19.

The job and the dedication of our care workers is hopefully being recognised. Gradually they are replacing celebrities and sports star as the real heroes in our society. Despite the criticism being levelled at the way the UK has responded to this pandemic I believe our care home sector has faired well against the odds. I remember reading early in this pandemic of care homes in Spain being abandoned, patients being discovered days later all having been left to die. It is a real credit to our care home staff across all sectors that they not only care for every single resident they do so with love and dignity. 

My mother in law lived in a care home for two years (not Chase House), she suffered from dementia and Lupus and had a stoma. She died in the home in 2018. I am thankful she is not there during this pandemic.

I mentioned in a previous blog about applauding with the staff from Chase House last Thursday evening. Tomorrow I will do so again with some extra vigour.

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Covid-19 Diaries 1

16 April 20

Posted at 2:13

 

Closure Effective Midnight 23rd March 2020

We have just entered our fourth week of lockdown in the UK. Lockdown in response to a global pandemic of a coronavirus called Covid-19. Originating from cross contamination in a wet wildlife market in Wuhan China in December 2019 Over the first couple of months of 2020 the virus, about which very little, if anything, was known, spread throughout the world.

We are now living in a world that would have been beyond our wildest dreams, well wildest nightmares, when we returned home from travelling in New Zealand on 21st February 2020. The situation in China had been in the news and travel from China had been restricted whilst we were still in New Zealand. Flying home there were more people than is usual wearing masks at Singapore airport but really beyond that Covid-19 was a distant threat.

On arriving home we busied ourselves trying to adapt to the British winter and focussed our minds on projects and activity to get involved in as we waited for Spring. We socialised with friends, visited restaurants and so on. Gradually the news contained more about the virus in China.

On 14th March Marilyn and I went to the theatre in east London and then to a restaurant in Islington. It was a strange evening. By then the virus had a grip in Northern Italy. We were being told to ‘ wash our hands’ regularly and to try and avoid crowds and being too close to people. London was strange that Saturday evening, there were a few empty seats in the theatre but it had been a sell out. Restaurants and bars were very quiet, Upper Street in Islington did not look or feel like a Saturday night. After that weekend the country began to change dramatically The theatre we had been to closed. The news media, which has been disgraceful throughout this pandemic, sparked panic buying, it was soon impossible to find pasta or toilet rolls in the supermarkets. The next week was a mixture of fear, confusion and disbelief. The news was dominated by the situation in Italy, financial markets panicked, the virus was now spreading in the UK particularly in London. It was inevitable that soon we would follow some other countries and be in lockdown. It was announced on Monday 23rd March and implemented at midnight.

The previous week we had ordered a new chicken house and run for our four hens. The area of our garden where the chickens have lived for the last 15 years or more had become dominated by a massive palm tree (yes in England) it had basically thrived for all that time on chicken shit and now stood around 12 metres tall with its massive fronds providing a large area of shade over a now dilapidated chicken coop and higgledy piggledy fencing and chicken wire. So week one of lockdown, with thankfully dry weather, was spent clearing the area, felling the tree (a bitter sweet moment) and then assembling, with difficulty, the rather modern chicken coop and run. Having completed that task I turned my attention to some sub standard electrical wiring that had been cobbled together to provide power to the garage, located at the bottom of the garden. It had been a temporary quick fix about 25 years ago. Now for the first time I guess I had enough time and patience to sort it all out and get it up to today’s regulations.

So initially and I guess this is true for many, being confined to the house, allowed out just once a day for exercise, starts off as quite therapeutic. I’m definitely not a one for DIY, I usually rush, go off half cocked make a mess and never get the job done. But for a couple of weeks I amazed myself at what I managed to achieve.

That though did not take up the majority of my time. On 16th March a friend in the village started a Facebook page to offer help to people who were isolated by restrictions or the virus itself. Over seventy year olds were subject to a 12 week period of self isolation, anyone who had been in contact with someone who was thought to have the virus had to quarantine. All of a sudden people who were slightly vulnerable due to age, ability or health now became really vulnerable and isolated and not self sufficient.

The ‘Good Neighbour’ page launched on the 16th March had ballooned into a Good Neighbour help group consisting of a sort of steering group of eight individuals working with over 120 volunteers able to offer assistance to every one of the 4000 houses in our village, The group had a website, telephone, email, every house in the village had received a flyer, posters were displayed throughout. Amazingly this was all completed by 20th March and was achieved with just one initial face to face meeting of four people on the 16th. Everything else was and continues to be done using Whatsapp, Facebook, email and the phone. Within another week the 120 plus members of the group had photo IDs which both helped with safeguarding for those receiving help and with explaining to police why we might be out and about, or to supermarkets why we are purchasing volumes of certain items. Needless to say I was and still are one of the steering group and even more bizarre than me doing DIY I now spend a fair amount of time helping the needy.

So now just a month after that theatre trip the pubs, clubs, restaurants and cinemas are all closed, as are schools and many shops. There are hardly any flights in or out of the country. Only essential workers travel, the message is and has been stay at home, protect the NHS and thereby save lives. By and large that direction has been respected. With 12,000 deaths in the UK to date and 132,00 worldwide the impact of Covid-19 is becoming apparent.

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