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Vaccination offers hope of better times ahead for care home staff and residents

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Leading by example. Usha Gandecha, Foxholes Home Manager, receives the COVID-19-vaccine.

Time lost but hope regained

During this pandemic, milestone birthdays have been and gone, grandchildren have been born, and it’s heart-breaking our residents weren’t able to celebrate these important events with their loved ones.

At Foxholes Care Home in Hertfordshire, our residents have been keen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even those who are usually reluctant to take medicines, as they see vaccination as a portal through which they can reconnect and hug their families again.

Our staff have also been keen to get the vaccine to continue to be there for our residents during these difficult times, and also as protection for their own families.

We were delighted to be visited by a vaccination unit at the beginning of January. They brought the first doses to both our staff and residents, who are a wonderful bunch of characters. Ranging between 47 to 104 years of age, they have varying care needs as you can imagine.

On the day the vaccination unit arrived, we set up a space for them in the library which has enough space for social distancing and an area to plug in the fridges. Willing residents were brought in groups of six and then, for the residents who were bed-bound, we went with the vaccinators to deliver the vaccine in residents’ rooms.

Before the visit, we researched the vaccine and identified residents for whom it may not be appropriate and we have them on a list for when alternatives becomes available. Apart from having a sore arm, none of us have had any adverse side effects.

Among those who took up the vaccine was Joyce Birrell, a 104-year-old resident who has been with us for over three years. She is a great-grandmother and has an incredibly supportive family who were relieved she was being vaccinated.

Mrs Birell has advanced dementia, so her understanding of the pandemic is limited. Although she wasn’t too happy when she had the injection, she quickly perked up once it was over and really enjoyed meeting the nurses.

A challenge for us has been managing levels of understanding among residents about the severity of the pandemic. Even those who receive daily papers or talk about coronavirus, don’t always grasp the impact it is having on the outside world.

Caring instincts

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is to trust our instincts as carers. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we knew so little about the virus, the symptoms and how many people could be asymptomatic. Being alert to when our residents were not feeling their normal selves was therefore vital.

An interesting challenge for us has been managing the level of understanding among our residents about the severity of the pandemic. Even residents who receive daily papers and read or talk about coronavirus, don’t always grasp the impact it is having on the outside world and why it means they can’t have visitors as often.

Although we have created a nice bubble for residents who have all the facilities they need to be comfortable, we know it is taking its toll on the mental wellbeing of both residents and staff. It will take time to really understand the impact lockdown is having on people's mental health, and this is something we as carers need to look out for.

One thing that has helped is implementing technology like Facebook Portal, which means our residents can stay connected with their loved ones in real time. Our use of technology from the start of restrictions earned us a place on the Great British Care Awards shortlist. Seeing our residents’ faces light up when they recognise their family is tremendously heart-warming.

We realise the vaccine isn’t going to change things immediately, and we still need to keep up best practice for infection control. But we find comfort in the knowledge that it's going to bring residents that one step closer to seeing their relatives and that all-important hug.

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