As we reach the third month of lockdown, it is becoming clear that many of the challenges we have faced since March will be with us for some time. Alongside the sustained loss of things we enjoy – holidays, meals out with friends, trips to the cinema or to sporting events – many of us are also suffering from loneliness, isolation, and nervousness about income and job security. As we emerge from this health crisis into a period of social and economic uncertainty, we have a greater sense of our own fragility. The pandemic will have an enduring impact on us all.

There are no magical cures. But we have defences. What has always struck me as so special about our business is the difference we make to people’s lives – pandemic or no pandemic. What drives me are the recollections of seeing the smile on the face of someone we care for as their care assistant comes in through the door. Or that grateful look at the end of a call – that brief pat on the arm or lingering clasp of hands. Kindness is our business and we have the kindest workforce in the world. I write letters regularly to thank care assistants and branch teams for being remarkable – for showing deeply humbling levels of dedication, care and skill. One care assistant has voluntarily gone into 12 weeks of isolation, losing physical contact with her young kids to protect those she cares for, and taking on end-of-life care on her days off to minimise the risk of cross-infection. She is not alone. For me all this is deeply impactful. For many at the frontline it is just what they do. I only wish I could better convey how special they are.

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa’s words resonate even more now. Our business is an unending flow of acts and words of kindness across 50,000 hours of care a day. This pandemic has stolen away many important things from our normal lives, leaving us feeling hollow. But that hollow makes the echoes of kindness louder, and more meaningful. With our acts of kindness, we not only help those whose needs are greatest, but we also fight back. Just maybe we can emerge from this period as a better, kinder and more appreciative society.

Meanwhile, amidst the echoes, please hear my own “thank you,” spoken in awe and admiration.

 

Each week, we receive dozens of stories from care workers and managers across the country as they battle to provide the best care and support possible amid this crisis. These stories are remarkable – like the people behind them. Many of them are uplifting. Here are just a few of our colleagues’ heroic, kind and increasingly widely-appreciated efforts.

Caring for the care workers

Front-line care workers continue to deliver the best service possible in extremely challenging circumstances. For some, that means potential exposure to the virus. One care worker in Cannock sat outside a sick patient’s window, talking to him, for four hours while he waited for paramedics, reports regional manager Scott Higgins-Wright. Regional manager Tracy Asbery also sat with frightened patients as they prepared to be taken to hospital, reports Sarah Thomas, regional director, South.

As care workers deal with both their own, and others’ fear, those care workers need looking after, too. A handful, including Tracy, have become sick themselves and are self-isolating. Many of those still on duty are extending their work-days (and nights), foregoing rest, continuing their rounds through eerily empty towns, villages and communities. They rarely see colleagues or family. “It feels like the calm before the storm,” says Samantha Bond, regional manager, Northern Ireland and Blackpool. “It’s weird, because we’re driving around, doing the fire-fighting, and there’s no-one else on the road.”

Managers like Samantha are doing their utmost to keep their care workers safe, to stay in touch and to boost morale. “I send messages to them every day to say how proud I am,” says Hannah Ford, extra-care branch manager in Salford. “That keeps them going.” Lynne Hewitt, regional manager Scotland, has split her branch teams in two, ensuring that if one group does go off sick, the branch office can remain open. “It’s so I can assure the care workers that they won’t be on their own,” she explains. “There will always be someone there.”

Samantha Price, branch manager at Ebbw Vale, runs daily team calls on Zoom to keep spirits up. The team updates Facebook pages with nuggets of useful information for each other and for other care workers, such as lists of garages offering free MOTs. “On a Friday, we take print-screens of the Zoom call, with our thumbs up, and post it on the care workers’ page to say ‘thank you for this week’. It’s so important to stay in touch as care workers go about their work, Samantha insists; especially now as “we don’t see them as much.”

Mel Flanagan, branch manager in York, has packaged up carbolic soap and hand-towels in air-tight bags for each of her care workers to carry on their rounds with them, in case there are no clean washing facilities at clients’ houses. “It is for the care workers’ use only, and means they don’t have to rely on those providing it, especially when in lock-down.”

 

A lot more needs to be done. “Everyone is scared; everyone wants a face-mask. There is anger,” says regional director Sarah Thomas. There is also more work than usual to assuage concerned family-members, alongside the clients themselves. “We’re having to deal with partners…putting in extra visits because of how they are feeling,” adds Sarah.

Some of Samantha Price’s care workers are FaceTime-ing family members, during their care visit, to reassure them that their loved-one is okay. “We don’t normally do that,” says Samantha, but the practice evolved naturally, from care workers’ “exceptional” instincts, she reports. (The same selfless instincts led care workers Della and Teresa, after their double-handed run, to queue up for two hours to collect a customer’s medicines, allowing the family to take a step back.)

City and County Group staff throughout the country are going the extra mile, drawing on their instincts, expertise, networks and relationships to keep things going, often against the odds.

The public is trying to help, too. Many have sent in stories of spontaneous applause, letters from school-children, donated goods, hand-embroidered face-masks, and much more.

Care workers in Alison Phillip’s team in Redhill, Surrey, regularly make up little bags of soap, flannels and shampoo to take to clients – even during normal times. When Alison realised that clients were going to struggle for daily shopping and essentials, she appealed to her community through Facebook and has since been inundated with products, including toiletries, food-stuffs and more, reports Sarah Thomas. Feltham shops and garages are offering to deliver, for free, whatever care workers and clients need to keep going. With similar generosity from local schools, who delivered leftover food when they shut down, toiletries from local cosmetics firms, and even toilet-paper from neighbours, “the training room is now like a little shop, with items that can easily be distributed when needed,” Sarah says. “We no longer have to worry about the shopping calls we do, since, if needed, we, can make up a large bag from what we have.”

An Asda worker in Monk Cross lifted Mel out of her gloom. “I honestly felt lost, as we are all facing an unknown quantity, and ultimately putting ourselves in the line of fire,” she recalls. But then one day, as she perused the empty shelves in Asda, a store worker stopped her. After establishing that she worked alongside the NHS, he shook her hand “with such intensity, looked me straight in the eyes and said how proud he was of all of us for the work we were doing,” says Mel. For her, “the humanity of this one man erased those fears and made me realise that actually, people to care. People do appreciate us. People do acknowledge our skills and determination.”

If you have a story please let us know: Covid19response@candchealthcare.co.uk

Each week, we receive dozens of stories from care workers and managers across the country as they battle to provide the best care and support possible amid this crisis. These stories are remarkable – like the people behind them. Many of them are uplifting. Here are just a few of our colleagues’ heroic, kind and increasingly widely-appreciated efforts.

Front line workers take the initiative …

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary behaviours. And we’re seeing that, up and down the UK, in the generosity, sacrifices and resourcefulness of our care workers, managers and of the wider community. Care workers are risking their health and giving up family unity and holiday time in order to carry on looking after clients. They are, without fail, “putting the service users first,” says Hannah Marsh, regional manager, Midlands. Their mindset is that “if we get it, we’re young and fit enough to fight it off,” says Hannah. Her message echoes similar stories of bravery from across the country.

Hannah Ford, extra care manager in the Salford area, manages 350 clients across six care schemes – including 25 people with high needs. Without fail, “staff are going above and beyond,” she says, coming in early, staying late, doing additional calls and extra shopping trips out of hours. At Bourke Gardens, in Manchester, two clients with confirmed COVID-19 are in hospital, six are in isolation, and four staff are off. The rest are stepping up, including by helping deliver dozens of meals to Bourke Gardens customers in their rooms, as the restaurant has shut down.

The nationwide shortage of masks and protective equipment is placing additional stress on care workers and managers at precisely the time they are needed the most. “One of our clients had symptoms, but we couldn’t go in, it was awful,” recalls Hannah Ford. The urgent need drove her to join a local managers’ network in Salford to appeal for help. It worked: a local care home offered 100 masks, which Hannah collected and distributed to help make up the shortfall.

In Leith, Scotland regional manager Lynne Hewitt ordered 30 face masks from enterprising local citizen Conal Kelly, who had begun making them from home. “He was giving them away to help local health and social care groups,” she reports. Lynne’s team – like all the others across the nation – need more face masks.  But for now, “it’s enough to keep those care workers who are at-risk out there,” she says. Not a single care worker on Lynne’s team has refused to make a visit because of fear of contagion. “They have a bond” with those they are taking care of, Lynne reports.

There was further fierce community spirit from the Leith gin distillery, which has re-purposed its operations to produce hand-sanitizer. “They are giving the hand-sanitizer out in lovely glass gin bottles, because that is all they have got,” says Lynne. Lynne procured five-for-a-pound small plastic bottles at Pound Land which she fills up for her care workers, telling them to return when they need re-filling.

These enterprising, community-driven production lines are already vital in supporting the most vulnerable, and will continue to be. So will all the extraordinary extra miles that care workers and managers are putting in. “I’m working seven days a week from 6am, and still getting calls at midnight,” says Hannah Ford. She is not alone.

If you have a story please let us know: Covid19response@candchealthcare.co.uk

Frank Robinson, 92, is a customer of City & County and an avid poet. In saying thank you for the care he’s received, Frank sent us the following; a wonderful tribute to his carers. Thank you, Frank, for your beautiful words.

Thank you, carers

It is time that I say thank you
for what you’ve done for me.
A thousand days of caring;
ten hundred cups of tea.

And with the tea came kindness:
the call when you arrive.
That makes me glad to be here;
and pleased to be alive.

You listen to my stories
the people that I’ve known.
And now you see the ending
– for I am on my own.

And this is not a rare world.
It’s not a ‘dream come true’.
It just needs loving kindness
and that will come from you.

You tend my cuts and bruises
and try to keep me clean.
You bully me with kindness
for that’s what caring means.

You bring back life within me
give purpose to my years.
You help in my endurance,
and will not stand for tears.

You all have understanding
of what life needs to be.
You see it in each person
I know you do with me.

They were hard years that we’ve shared
with joy and misery.
And through it, you’ve all worked
to give life back to me.

Taking More Care

Remember us, your carers
you know we’re always here.
With love and understanding
and always without fear.

The world that we were used to
has vanished without trace.
And omitomi virus
now scares the human race.

We know that you are worried
and you know that we care.
And if you’re really fearful
just call and we’ll be there.

Your shopping is a doddle
we’ll get the things you need.
And you’ll need medication
and newsy stuff to read.

Remember that we care
and we are always here.
We will honour you with love
to take away that fear.