ENRICHEnabling Research in Care Homes
Taking part in research – A General Manager’s Experience
Charlotte Gilbert is a General Manager at Brendoncare Knightwood, a residential care home in Hampshire.
I started my career in care at the age of 16 as a care assistant. I began working for Brendoncare at the age of 18. As an organisation they have supported me to work in various different settings such as nursing care, dementia care, residential and domiciliary care. They have encouraged me to progress in my career, securing my current role as a General Manager (I am 30). I am now studying for a level 7 Master’s degree and recently took part in a research project developing a training programme for care home staff. I am a passionate advocate for elderly care with a strong focus on end-of-life care.
In this blog I will provide a brief insight into what working in care is like for me and my experience of taking part in a research project.
Working in care
Working in a care home is very busy, there’s a lot to it. I often find myself going home thinking about outstanding tasks largely because we offer a 24//7 service to many people with complex needs. There is a permanent responsibility to ensure every resident within our setting is cared for properly – with kindness, dignity and respect. It is also an emotionally demanding role, providing regular support to staff such as listening to what is going on for them, guiding and coaching them in their work, also providing them with reassurance as and when needed.
Our home is always filled with laughter, from daily activities which fill rooms and corridors with frivolity to intense games of Uno which brings out a competitive side in everyone! It is an extended family that learns about each other over time – and a true home for everyone. Hearing a resident call Brendoncare Knightwood their home is the highest compliment and the best feeling.
A typical day at Brendoncare Knightwood
I start most days by greeting staff and residents before sitting down to catch up with any goings-on, messages or emails. Reports always need to be completed, including audit tools, spreadsheets, stock and medication management – and general meetings to fit in to. People who have never worked in this setting may not be aware of just how much goes on.
Being an ear for someone to talk to or a shoulder needed for them to lean on, whether that be a resident, relative or colleague, matters to me. I maintain an open-door policy for everyone, this can be by telephone, email or an in-person visit (wherever possible).
As a care home manager, many people look to me for answers, which is a big pair of shoes to wear! Those looking for answers aren’t just staff, residents or relatives but are commonly, external stakeholders such as, GP surgeries, hospitals, district nursing and community care teams, pharmacies, visiting professionals, governing bodies and community members. Time is also spent having internal discussions with our on-site maintenance team, other care home managers and the Brendoncare Senior Leadership Team.
Making a difference
Being involved in every aspect of residents’ lives is paramount to me, this might be a front facing role or supporting them and their loved ones quietly in the background. It’s vital for me to make a difference in the lives of our residents. For my sins, I often spend more time with residents and staff than with my own family! However, the care we deliver around the clock undoubtedly has a positive impact on the resident’s daily lives which makes all our efforts worthwhile.
The care sector can be a challenging field to work in. My day-to-day responsibilities revolve around putting others first and ensuring everyone else’s needs are met, above my own. However, the team here need little encouragement from me to perform to the best of their abilities. Boundless energy and enthusiasm pay huge dividends for the residents and make an invaluable contribution to this safe, warm, happy and inclusive home. As a team, and as friends, good communication and collaborative working can help everyone thrive. One priority for me is to make sure we deliver the best care possible and this is why I recently got involved in a research project.
Collaborating in research
We recently collaborated on a project of research which turned a conceptual idea into a training programme for care home staff. The project was called Material Citizenship, the concept works by understanding the importance of including objects in care plans to support residents to carry out meaningful everyday tasks. We worked together with Dr Kellyn Lee to turn this concept into a reality. We looked at what a training programme would look like, how it would be delivered, how this would work in a variety of settings, and what had changed as a result.
By taking part in this research project, we learned how objects play a vital role in supporting our residents’ autonomy, how we support them to do things that have meaning and how this gives them purpose. By helping design and develop the programme and then implementing it in our home it made a difference to both residents and staff. It supported residents to get involved in life because we asked them questions such as what in your daily life is part of your routine and what did you use to do this? We also asked residents what activities make them feel valued. We were able to use this knowledge and put it into practice. It supported staff to overcome their fears about people getting hurt by engaging in everyday tasks by encouraging them to try new things out whilst reducing any real risk.
Taking part in this research project helped us recognise these tasks shouldn’t be taken away from individuals just because they live in a care home or because they are being supported to live with dementia. This should be the independence we strive to maintain to make someone feel individual and at home as well as keeping them safe and being the best representation of ourselves and themselves we can be. This programme has been great for our team – enhancing staff knowledge and enhancing the lives of those who live and work here.
As a result of taking part in research we have seen a positive impact on our residents, for example, we have individuals who now polish their own rooms using their choice of polish they would have used at home, this makes them feel like they are at home. Residents have been getting the community bus to the local town to buy their own fresh blueberries and a walk around the shops. We have one resident who now delivers newspapers to residents each morning, others doing the gardening outside their room/patio area, repotting flowers/plants. We have residents who are making their own choice of hot drink in the mug of their choice. These may seem low level things but by working on this project we noticed these things were overlooked. We also noticed staff were scared to let people do things but by working on this project and embedding the findings in our work it provided us a safety net and the confidence to do it.
Whilst we recognise that some activities can pose potential risks, now we focus on managing that risk and supporting someone’s routine and independence rather than taking it away. I feel by taking part in this research we have instilled a new confidence in the staff team, encouraging individuals to support residents live a life that they would lead if they were in their own home. It was also an eye opener for us as a team as to how much we do promote and support residents’ individuality and daily life choices they make. Relatives have also commented how this has had an impact on them when they visit, they too are encouraging loved ones to actively participate and engage rather than trying to do this for them.
For me and my team taking part in research has been a positive experience. We have been able to change practices and make not only our residents lives better but also our own.