Lessons learnt as North Yorkshire care homes demonstrate courage and innovation in the face of COVID-19

A report published today shows how many care homes across North Yorkshire made innovative changes to keep their residents safe and well even when they faced acute and often devastating challenges at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carer and elderly person

Healthwatch North Yorkshire based its report on interviews with five care home managers to find out the innovative ways that care homes responded to COVID-19. The report shows that many of these changes have had a long-term positive effect.

Care homes residents remain some of the most vulnerable to the virus and the report acknowledges that this was a “traumatic period”. But it also highlights the ingenuity and dedication of care home managers and staff who pulled out all the stops to create a safe and welcoming environment for residents even at the height of the pandemic.

Homes provided visiting pods, repurposed buildings and developed communications for connecting residents and family in new ways - using IT equipment like tablets and iPads.

Staff found that some of these initiatives led to improvements in the wellbeing of residents, providing access and information at a time where face-to-face connection was reduced, or not available.

'Long-term changes to practices'

One care home manager told Healthwatch how important technology was during the pandemic, and how it helped to connect loved ones to residents during end-of-life care. These positive initiatives have resulted in long-term changes to practices.

Care home managers frequently told Healthwatch that without COVID-19 they would not have made the changes they have and that they will keep the changes going forward.

For example, one care home manager described plans to renovate a visiting pod that had been introduced during the pandemic. They wanted to utilise the space and create a stimulating and enjoyable environment for residents, and which could also be a place for involving the wider community.

'Inspiring ideas for other care homes'

The pod had been decorated by local children with lots of vibrant, pictures and paintings. “It’s always a focus on colour and anything to do with children, for people with dementia you are likely to get a response,” said the manager.

As well as carrying initiatives forward into the COVID-19 recovery period and beyond, Healthwatch North Yorkshire hopes the themes identified in the report can be used as inspiring ideas for other care homes to reflect on, and to consider ways they can utilise the lessons learned in their own circumstances.

This project was important, as we wanted to give a voice to the people who have been at the forefront of health and social care services during the pandemic. It has been an exceptionally difficult year for those working in the care sector, and this report shows the bravery and dedication that staff have demonstrated to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities remain protected.
— Ashley Green, CEO, Healthwatch North Yorkshire.

A working group, with representatives from North Yorkshire County Council and the care home sector, supported this work and were involved in each stage of the project.

Cllr Michael Harrison, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Health Integration said: “We welcome this report which shows the enormous effort made by our dedicated care home staff and managers to create safe and welcoming spaces for residents and families during this very difficult and often traumatic period.

“We must never forget the enormous service they gave to protect their residents and to support families, and which they continue to give. Above all, this report shows that the innovation and creativity that went into finding solutions to keep residents safe, stimulated and connected during this time has had a beneficial and long-term impact.”

Mike Padgham, Chair of the North Yorkshire care provider organisation, The Independent Care Group (ICG), welcomed the new Healthwatch North Yorkshire report, ‘Covid-19 and Care Homes: Lessons from an unprecedented time’, saying it was heartening that some positive things had emerged from a challenging period.

“So much of what we experienced from the pandemic has seemed negative and debilitating, in particular, its impact upon our vulnerable residents and on our staff, so it is good that we can identify some positive things that have emerged.”

“Lessons learned in terms of spending time with residents, harnessing new and innovative technology and our communication are all vital as we all prepare to deal with whatever social care looks like on the other side of COVID-19.”

We will need to garner all the information we can going forward to press for change and reform within social care as we rebuild following the pandemic.
— Mike Padgham.

Healthwatch North Yorkshire is calling for people to share their views and experiences of health and social care, by visiting our website, calling Healthwatch North Yorkshire on 01904 552687, or by email.

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