Recently we spoke to Leigh Horton, our registered manager for our Independent Living Service in Maidenhead, about her and her team’s experience of dealing with the pandemic.

Coping in a Covid 19 World

Reflecting back on the past few months, we have been quite lucky, there have been challenges but I have a great team and they have all stepped in to help. We reacted early to the pandemic. I created a risk assessment before lockdown was announced and we immediately created staff bubbles, stopped using agency who had been working in hospital settings and did not move staff between sites.

We also had a conversation with all of our customers and their support networks about staying safe and staying at home instead of attending their usual activities, so that we could reduce the risk of contracting the infection. Anyone who was able to weigh up the decision agreed to stay home and we made a best interest decision for those who could not make it themselves. Many of our customers stopped attending their day centre and doing their usual activities before the government put the country into lockdown.

Huge challenges and responding to the demand

At the beginning of the pandemic I had 26 staff members isolating with symptoms, and this was before day services staff had been redeployed. This was a huge challenge, we had to decrease to our minimum safe staffing levels. I moved into Brill house (one of our services) with another senior so that we were available 24/7. Optalis had just announced a temporary pay increase to recognise the extra effort we are asking of staff at this time. This helped to encourage team members to take on extra overtime.

The redeployed staff from the day services saved us. We had 22 people join us across all six sites. It was a bit challenging at first, like having 22 new recruits all starting on the same day, but we did already know each other from the day services. They all bought the right skills with them so they quickly fitted in.

The staff team have really stepped up and showed true dedication, some offered to move in and all of them have showed that their work is more than just a job. My management team have worked under huge amounts of pressure and have just done what I needed, they got on with each task without hesitation.

Visibility and support

My manager has been really good, Jane Bartlett (Head of Regulated Services), was calling to check in twice a day at one point, as I had my entire management team off self isolating. I have also had regular visits from David the CEO and we have had a lot of support from Andy our health and safety officer to get PPE. It has been good to see all of the senior management team out in services rather than reporting from the safety of an office.

The HR team have been very supportive, one of the team, Kirsty, has completed training and is able to work on the floor if needed and Jeannette (Director of HR and Corporate Services​) has been fantastic. She supported me with my particular situation, as I live with a person who is shielding. Jeannette arranged keyworker accommodation for myself and a few other staff members in the same position. So that we did not have to worry about going home.

Changing our approach

Our office environment has changed, seniors are now based in services seven days a week to provide support to the teams. We have changed our working days to ensure that we are around all the time. We make sure that our teams see a manager every day, including the weekends and at night. I have worked flexible hours and been mindful to ensure that our night staff also receive support. Our team meetings have changed a bit too, we now have smaller meetings with the same agenda and we will hold the meeting two or three times in the same week to reach the whole staff team. I also have regular FaceTime calls with staff who are shielding, to check how they are doing and keep them up to date. We also have regular video meetings with the other registered managers to share responses.

We still do a lot of our business as usual things, just in a different way, we have carried out supervision over the phone and sometimes face to face. Our teams are still completing their training, and we have workbooks for those not able to complete e-learning due to wifi access. We also still carry out our competency checks as before.

When the PPE guidance changed we went into services and demonstrated to the teams to keep them updated. As the advice would often happen towards the end of the week, we would often go in at the weekend during handover to update the staff. We also updated the Covid19 risk assessment to reflect any changes and would share this with the team.

Keeping people safe and happy

We have a broad range of health and support needs in our services, from people who use oxygen therapy to those with no existing health issues. All of the people we support have been staying at home. Some follow the news and have been quite accepting of the new situation. Apart from some people who have struggled with the lack of access to haircuts (which we did ourselves with clippers) we have been surprised how well everyone has adapted to staying in. The resilience of our customers has been amazing. Their lives have gone through a massive change and they have just adapted.

Some of the people we support understand that they cannot go out. Others have needed more support to understand the situation. We have worked with families to create social stories and we have used signing to help them understand and explain the illness and why staying home is important.

We have been supporting everyone to maintain social contact. Using video calls and signing for their families and friends. We are also hosting distancing visits with family members. Initially we had to liaise a lot with family members, to explain social bubbles and explain our risk assessments. Naturally they were concerned for their loved one.

The team have made sure that people haven’t missed out on any activities. The teams from the day services have been running sessions during their shifts and my staff have learnt a lot of ways to have fun with the people we support. We also supported people to take part in the weekly clapping on Thursday nights, and to make banners to display for keyworkers.

Community connections

We’ve had a lot of positive response from the community, lots of donations from people including arts and craft supplies for customers, puzzles and books. We had donations of visors and so many lovely cards for key workers.

It’s helped us to build our community relations. During the second week of the clapping the neighbours clapped for the team at Brill House. We have had members of the public saying hi, it is really good to have new service in a new area being accepted.

Learning new ways forward

We’ve adapted some processes in services, customers are now using more assistive technology, from smart speakers to tablets. We have reassessed our staffing levels in some areas, so that we can focus on supporting people to enjoy their day and receive their personal care at the right times. Our existing staff have learnt a lot from the redeployed staff. They now see a way to provide both personal care and activities and have fun.

The family members now have a much better understanding of what support we offer to their loved ones, because we have been sharing lots of photos through email and I want us to continue to do that.

We will keep providing more activities in-house for our customers. We are also looking at how to keep some of the redeployed staff on as bank to help build our resilience. We definitely keep all the skype going, and will continue to use assistive tech. It has been good to get over the hurdle of setting up the technology and building everyone’s confidence to use it.

We also hope that our staff can go and working in the day services once they re-open so that our team can also get a full person centred picture of each customer’s life.

Our infection control practices will also carry on, we already did a lot of cleaning, but I think it will be good to keep on doing more disinfecting and cleaning all our surfaces more often. Some staff have a bit of fear around things relaxing, it will be a big change to reduce the PPE we are all wearing.

I have had staff tell me that they couldn’t feel more safe, with the PPE and response provided. That makes me feel that we have got things right, we have been getting information out to teams, using videos and updates and taking time to thank people. It has been good to begin to hear about our plans for our 2023 strategy and helps us to look to the future.