Opportunities in adversity
Even though the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause stress, anxiety and disruption, it has also created opportunities, spurred innovative thinking and encouraged the forging of new connections.
It has also brought out the best in people, as individuals, organisations and our wider communities do what they can to support others through this unprecedented crisis. Volunteering is just one example of this outpouring of compassion.
In my role as Head of Commissioning in Adult Social Care, my colleagues and I collaborated closely with our local Voluntary Action Leicestershire (VAL) umbrella organisation to identify people interested in volunteering in care settings to support the COVID-19 response. We also recruited internal volunteers whose current roles were limited by pandemic restrictions.
We created the volunteer pool to help us prepare for the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce, but fortunately, we did not have to call on this at scale.
Volunteers helped with a number of different but equally essential tasks, including: supporting meal times, making drinks, cleaning up, making beds (domestic tasks) etc. They were essentially extra hands to allow staff a much-needed break.
Training at pace!
Those who work in this sector ideally undergo extensive, expensive and time consuming training to equip them for the many issues and challenges that residential or domiciliary care present. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or money to spare!
Thankfully, we were able to negotiate online training at a reduced cost from providers endorsed by Skills for Care. As part of this, our health and safety officers created YouTube videos with guidance notes on moving and handling. Volunteers were also given training on how to use PPE equipment correctly.
All volunteers underwent a DBS check by our HR department and each of the residential care homes provided an induction programme co-produced by ourselves and the providers. It was also agreed that LCC staff would check in on volunteers after each shift.
We knew we had to place volunteers swiftly. With the help of our HR department, we created a volunteer mapping system allowing us to place people based on where they lived. We also made sure they were assigned to one location only, in keeping with infection prevention guidance.
Time was also taken to confirm that care homes, providers and other related organisations had the necessary insurance cover to accommodate volunteers.
Many of the volunteers we ‘recruited’ were furloughed staff and have since returned to work. However, the experience was clearly a positive one for some as a number of individuals have continued to volunteer in their spare time or found themselves considering careers in the care sector.
To other councils considering the role of volunteers in their care homes, I have this advice: make sure you explain what it really means to volunteer in a residential home. Alternatively, the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme can offer less time intensive volunteering opportunities.
Volunteers can carry out simple, one-off tasks such as delivering blood pressure monitors to patients and transporting small quantities of PPE to care homes, as well as support vulnerable people in the community with getting essentials such as shopping and prescriptions. This support can help care homes with wrap around support and frees up trained professionals to focus on providing hands on care.
There are many other amazing examples of community kindness, including one volunteer in a residential care home supporting people with mental health issues who has since fostered a teenager struggling with psychological issues.
Could volunteering work in your area?
To other councils considering the role of volunteers in their care home, I have this advice: make sure you explain what it really means to volunteer in a residential home.
The general public don’t always understand what working for the social care sector means. Volunteers may be exposed to problems or issues they may find daunting if they’re not prepared. So, be clear with them about the role and what they may be asked to do.
Perhaps even more importantly, you want to be confident they have the empathy, compassion and intuition to make residents feel supported and cared for – exactly as you would want for salaried care staff.
In relation to COVID-19 restrictions and council volunteering, they must also be made fully aware they cannot volunteer anywhere else to limit risk of transmission.
As part of the learning, we had to be mindful of the issues around sending volunteers into homes. Families were not allowed to visit their loved ones, so sending in volunteers may have raised some concerns. Therefore, it was agreed with the homes they would explain to families why volunteers were being sent in to support them.
Although this initiative has shown that community strength can produce innovative ways of dealing with a crisis, we should not see it as a precedent. I hope we will always have the support and kindness of our amazing volunteer networks, but I also hope we can build a resilient, adaptable and thriving care sector, so that community support on this scale is never needed again.