From open house to lockdown
I don’t suppose any of us envisaged the enormous impact coronavirus would have when the pandemic hit our shores in early 2020. Managing one of MHA’s large residential, nursing and dementia homes suddenly became a daunting task.
I remember receiving the memo informing us we must close our doors to visitors by 12 noon on Wednesday 18 March last year. Thankfully, with knowledge gained from working on a local government pandemic planning board, I had already implemented infection control procedures in the home.
All staff were instructed to change in and out of uniform on site, to stay at work for all meals, and to remain on separate floors and not mix with others on shift. Personal protective equipment (PPE) stations were installed around the home and residents isolated in rooms.
We had our first suspected case on 25 March, with a resident who had recently been discharged back to the home from hospital without being tested. We had very limited PPE and little knowledge of how to contain this dreadful disease. Within days, we managed to obtain five tests and all came back positive.
The home changed from a happy, loving environment, to a place of fear and uncertainty. Staff numbers dwindled as more people had to isolate.
My commute to work was full of trepidation, not knowing what situation I would face and hoping we had no new cases. I was also unsure how many staff would be available to support our residents, many of whom we lost to infection in the early days of the pandemic.
Making the best of a difficult situation
The resilience of the Horfield Lodge team never fails to impress me. I felt humble as I watched them give the residents what their families could not give at that time: compassion, friendship and encouragement through those dark, dark days.
Once we had eradicated the virus in the home, we became very protective of our environment. During the summer months, as restrictions began to ease, we cautiously opened up the home again to visitors.
We began this journey with technology, using iPads, tablets, skype and zoom calls so relatives could stay connected. A little later, we moved to socially distanced meetings outside in private gardens.
When the second wave hit in the autumn, Horfield Lodge was ready. Once again, we battened down the hatches and built a wall of security around the residents. Thankfully, we have had no further infections or deaths in the home since May 2020.
In December, we secured vaccines for all residents and staff. The relief of seeing our beloved residents receive their first jab was indescribable. Hope was now in reach.
Many staff were keen to be vaccinated, while others were unable for various health and personal reasons. Regardless, we continued to maintain the highest standards of infection prevention control to keep both residents and staff safe.
Restrictions ease but caution remains
When we had news we could facilitate outdoor walks and indoor visiting, we remained cautious, but felt we were no longer fighting fires we couldn't see. We now had testing, PPE, knowledge and experience to help put that fire out.
We made a visitors’ booth in our coffee shop, fitted Perspex screens in an alcove with outside access, and created an area, fitted with a PPE station and microphone, where relatives could visit residents .
We have also slowly introduced essential family carer visits with regular PCR and LFD tests. End of life visits have been maintained throughout. With the recent further easing of restrictions, we have now moved to outside walks and indoor room visits.
None of this has been easy. The wall of safety we built over the past 14 months is slowly, brick by brick, being removed. We feel vulnerable, nervous of what might happen, but determined not return to those awful days.
Seeing families reunited with residents brings joy to my heart. My commute to work is now a happy journey. I am eager to bring the home back to the bustling, inspiring place it used to be. COVID-19 may still be with us, but our determination to stay connected drives us on.
Vaccination guidance for care staff