Reflecting on Belong’s response to COVID-19, the organisation’s deputy chief executive, Tracy Paine, identifies ‘our people’ as the single most important aspect.

She explained: “Our experience in infection prevention and control told us it would be our colleagues who would determine how successful we would be in navigating the pandemic. Strong leadership at all levels, combined with teamwork, proved key to our success.

“Naturally, colleagues in the care villages were initially apprehensive about coming into work, so it was important to give them the equipment and training to carry out their roles, and also to provide leadership that instilled confidence in the company’s COVID-19 strategy — for colleagues, residents and their loved ones.”

Tracy pointed to Belong’s Gold Investors in People accreditation as one indicator of the effectiveness of its handling of COVID-19. The result was announced at the end of July, following assessments, which took place during the early stages of the pandemic.

The report quotes Belong colleagues’ confidence in the organisation: “I’m really proud of the way Belong stepped up and got ahead of the game. Our managers were very quick to act.”

Investors in People also picked up on the support from staff, with praise detailing that “Actions taken prior to COVID and the buy-in of all employees to deliver a COVID-free Belong, confirms that an empowering leadership style is bringing out the best in people.”

Belong’s handling of COVID-19 commenced in January, the same time news of the virus started to gather pace outside of Asia. “We formed a dedicated COVID-19 team which comprised key senior internal stakeholders, who ensured early action by locking down our care villages before government recommendations advised,” Tracy said.

One of the key outputs from the team was its lead on communication, including the development of a data tracker to monitor colleagues’ and residents’ symptoms and test results, providing a live COVID-19 reporting tool across Belong’s seven care villages and home care services.

Tracy said the COVID-19 team proved invaluable in taking pressure off its care teams by filtering through the massive amount of confusing information and provided clear, straightforward guidance via a ‘Caring through Coronavirus’ bulletin, accessible to all colleagues on Belong’s news-style intranet.

In a similar vein, Belong embraced technology: “It has been vital to retaining strong social links people’s wellbeing,” Tracy explained. “Electronic care plans were extended to community customers and relatives and all of our villages were provided with extra iPads and smartphones to facilitate video calls. The introduction of Amazon Echo devices enabled residents to play music and interact. Our creative in-house fitness instructors delivered easy-to-follow exercises via a new YouTube channel, Belong Active.”

Speaking passionately about Belong’s sense of community, Tracy said: “Belong has been overwhelmed by the positive support from our Belong families. Colleagues have worked exceptionally hard, even more so than usual, with some even temporarily sacrificing living with their own families in order to support residents. I can’t thank them enough for the extraordinary dedication they’ve shown.”