ENRICHEnabling Research in Care Homes
Redeployment During COVID19 – Fawn’s Story
Fawn Harrad is a final year PhD student in the Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester. Fawn also works part-time as an ENRICH Care Home Research Facilitator at CRN West Midlands.
Fawn’s PhD study explores hospital transfers from care homes. She has recently been redeployed to work in a care home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was keen to share her experience.
As someone who has a close relative living in a care home, I was all too aware of the impact that ‘lockdown 2020’ could have on care home residents. After receiving a call on 17 March to say that my Nan’s care home would be closing its doors to visitors that evening, I immediately went to visit her and I was not surprised to see the visitors book overflowing with names.
Supporting my Nan as her dementia has progressed has always been a bittersweet experience. I feel very privileged to be able to support her, as she has supported me throughout my life.
Knowing her well gives me confidence to advocate in her best interests. Whilst the deterioration in her thinking skills are at times confusing and frustrating for her, we mainly take this with a pinch of salt and have found that humour is the best response. With this in mind, eight weeks into lockdown and I still giggle to myself at the conversation we had that evening…
Me: “Bye Nan, I won’t see you for a while because of the lockdown.”
Nan: “Well we don’t know what’s happening yet.”
Me: “They aren’t letting visitors in after today.”
Nan: “You’re joking!”
Me: “No, but we will call you and see you when they let us back in”.
Nan: “Well we don’t know what is happening yet!”
After four or five repetitions of ‘You’re joking!’ I decided to leave with a “see you soon” instead.
As the national situation regarding COVID-19 progressed, I was redeployed from my role as a Care Home Research Facilitator with ENRICH (Enabling Research in Care Homes) into a care home for 15 hours a week.
Emerging international data has suggested that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected care home residents, with 19-62% of all COVID-19-related deaths occurring in care homes. In the UK, the impact of COVID-19 has been unclear due to inconsistencies in testing and diagnosing and collating COVID-related mortality figures for individuals living in care homes.
Caring for residents in the context of COVID-19 is presenting new challenges in a sector where staff and services are already significantly stretched. I feel very fortunate that CRN West Midlands has allowed me to support the care home, the staff team and the residents who live there. I was excited about redeployment because I love working in care. I was also concerned that the staff would be wary of me given my role as a researcher, but I have been welcomed by the team, many of whom have caring responsibilities and who have had to shield or self-isolate.
In a previous blog my colleague Clare Bates, who has been redeployed into a nursing home, discussed the way that residents living with dementia appeared to be aware that something was not quite right, even in the absence of concrete facts. This is something that I have also witnessed. However, in the home where I have been redeployed a number of residents do not have any form of cognitive impairment, despite being physically unwell. These residents have talked about missing their loved ones who they regard as a lifeline.
Many of them are used to regular visits and although they can still speak to their relatives on the phone, like most people, they are eagerly awaiting the day they can give their loved one a hug.
When asked what my redeployment involves I describe it as “a little bit of everything”. This can mean helping with activities (so far I have been a bingo caller and had a go at darts), assisting with mealtimes, drinks rounds and befriending residents. On my first day, I offered to do some of the residents’ nails. This may sound like a somewhat meaningless task when set against the tremendous efforts of many health and care staff working during lockdown. However, very few external services are currently going into care homes and some of the residents are particularly concerned about the lack of a hairdresser! These small interactions provide an opportunity for me to get to know residents and for them to spend a bit of time being pampered. It also provides a talking point over the following days as other staff ask ‘I like your nails – who did them?’.
My favourite part is always hearing the resident’s stories – particularly as almost all of the residents have lived a lifestyle that is very different to mine. One lady had thirteen siblings, one grew up on a farm and another grew old in a house next door to a friend of mine. Some have travelled to places I have not visited and almost all have memories of things I am unlikely to experience – washing in a tin bath, seeing loved ones drafted for national service during the wartime and hearing air raid sirens in the middle of the night. It is in the smallest interactions where I think I am of most use to residents – providing company and new face to talk to, asking about their day and their life. But they are also of use to me, as I gain so much from getting to know them.
This guest blog was first published on the 21st May 2020 by the NIHR local Clinical Research Networks.