“One of the biggest challenges for those of us working in the care team here during the pandemic has been supporting residents’ mental health as well as their physical health,” said Kirstien Duester, Wellbeing Coordinator for the Whiteley Homes Trust charity.
The charity manages Whiteley Village with around 450 residents, about 60 of whom live in the Trust’s two care homes, where visiting was stopped in mid-March for several months. “During lockdown residents had to spend most of the day in their rooms and had very limited time with each other,” said Kirstien. “Even after lockdown was relaxed, visits were limited to four a day outdoors and too often had to be cancelled due to poor weather.
“Despite our best efforts, the resulting mental decline for some from prolonged social isolation was obvious and heartbreaking,” said Kirstien. “We knew video calls would be a game changer but we just didn’t have enough iPads or Portals to make a real difference so the Trust put out an appeal and we were overwhelmed with the response,” said Kirstien.
27 Facebook Portals were donated by NHSx and 30 iPads were donated from an anonymous donor, and the impact for residents and their families was dramatic.
Mary Jacob who will be 106 years old in November, only has two family members living in the UK and hadn’t seen her much loved cousin ‘Buz’ who lives in Australia, for several years. Kirstien was able to use a Portal to set up a conversation between these two ladies which created huge amounts of delight on both sides of the world!
“It was such a thrill to speak to Buz – we were both so excited,” said Mary. “I felt completely overwhelmed! It was just like she was in the room with me. This technology is incredible – it’s the best thing since sliced bread! Thank you!”
Sue had to go into care at Whiteley earlier this year and the separation was very distressing for her and her partner David, so the impact of COVID and the resulting lockdown was devastating. They were both delighted however when Kirstien was able to offer video calls.
“They’ve made such a huge difference to me and Sue and we really look forward to them,” said David. “Even if conversation is a bit restricted it is wonderful to see each other which we do once a week. It would have been absolutely awful without them.”
In August, a CQC review noted how effectively care staff used technologies to enable residents to communicate with their friends and family and access medical advice from health professionals.
Fiona, whose mum lives in one of Whiteley care homes said: “The video calls have been an absolute lifeline for us, especially during lockdown. Mum is gradually declining with dementia so to see her face once a week was so reassuring and we are very grateful to Kirstien and the staff at Whiteley for their support.”