That’s why Balhousie Care Group is making changes to the way it operates its care homes, from technology to job roles.
The last year and the toll Covid-19 has taken on the care sector is now well documented. For residents, relatives and staff it has been a year of heartbreak and anxiety, separation and stress.
Less talked about is how care homes have risen to the challenges and brought about many changes for the better.
For Balhousie, which has 26 homes across six regions of Scotland, what deserves attention now is how care homes have adapted in the face of this pandemic, and what these changes mean for their residents and relatives.
At Balhousie Care Group, the obvious changes are the tangible ones. Aside from the investment in masks and gloves, hand sanitiser and cleaning chemicals, the company installed thermal imaging cameras and digital sanitising dispensers in every care facility. Maintenance staff created gazebos in the gardens so that outside visits could take place in comfort. As visits have moved inside, they have turned their attention to building testing pods for rapid response Covid tests to take place.
Enhancements give reassurance
Sheilah Harvey, Head of Operations at Balhousie, says it all gives extra reassurance, particularly to new residents and their relatives.
She added: “Making the decision to move your loved one into care is a huge one and the events of the last year have made it all the more emotional,” she says.
With Covid testing now part of its ‘new normal’, Balhousie Care homes now have Covid coordinators – staff members who dedicate their time to administering and recording tests of staff, residents and visitors. With 1,500 staff tested several times a week, this is no mean feat.
Balhousie learned early on in the first wave that technology would be its friend. It was crucial that residents and relatives were able to keep in touch via Skype and FaceTime on the tablets issued to care homes. It was also important for the company to talk to relatives and staff easily and quickly. A customised phone app was developed to keep staff up to date with health and hygiene protocols, visiting guidelines and company news. A weekly digital newsletter has given relatives updates on their loved ones, while private Facebook groups for relatives are a forum to share even more stories and photos.
The Balhousie ‘family’ gets even closer
Just as important, though, have been the intangibles: the bonds forged among residents and staff, the patience and understanding of relatives, and the generosity of communities, who donated goods and services throughout lockdown.
Jill Kerr, Group Chief Executive Officer at Balhousie Care Group, explains: “We always talk about the Balhousie family and the close friendships that emerge in each of our homes, as well as across the group. The events of the last year have brought us even closer together.
“Residents spent more time with each other, staff did become family. There was amazing support from home to home and within the homes with everyone leaning on each other. Deep bonds have emerged and that’s something we will always cherish.”
Balhousie Care Group says the support of relatives has been remarkable during trying times.
Samantha Neasey, Home Administrator at Balhousie Rumbling Bridge in Perthshire, says relatives’ support means the world to staff:
She explained: “Relatives have been lovely throughout. We still get cards in the mail thanking us for our hard work. And even now at the end of a phone call a simple ‘Thanks for all you’re doing’ goes a long way.”
“We’re delighted to see a new buzz around our care homes’’
Balhousie Care Group has continued to be busy despite the ups and downs of the last year, offering nursing, residential and dementia care to the elderly, as well as specialist care to people with Huntingtons, and to adults with challenging behaviour. It is also branching into luxury residential/independent living, with a state-of-the-art stand-alone facility in Huntly, Aberdeenshire offering upmarket accommodation and dining, round-the-clock care, and access to the activities and services of the elderly care home that occupies the same site.
Jill Kerr says: “We’re welcoming new residents and, now that visiting restrictions have eased, are delighted to see a new buzz around our care facilities. This last year has proved that caring for our loved ones is more important than ever, and we know the lessons we’ve learned and the improvements we’ve made are having a positive impact on the Balhousie family.”