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Fear, anxiety and a determination to care for our vulnerable residents... what it's really like working in a care home now

In a searingly honest piece about the pressures staff feel under, Susan Ringland, administrator of Beechvale Nursing Home in Killinchy, tells how a sense of team spirit is helping them to cope

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Deputy manager Felipe Ferreira disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

Deputy manager Felipe Ferreira disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

Activity co-ordinator Nora doubling as an ice cream lady

Activity co-ordinator Nora doubling as an ice cream lady

Phyllis Brown reading a letter from a child

Phyllis Brown reading a letter from a child

Robert Walker reading a letter from well-wishers

Robert Walker reading a letter from well-wishers

Eileen Mooney celebrating her 91st birthday

Eileen Mooney celebrating her 91st birthday

Rita Boyd

Rita Boyd

Marie Hall and her daughter and granddaughter

Marie Hall and her daughter and granddaughter

Larry Fay celebrating his 91st birthday with his sons at his window

Larry Fay celebrating his 91st birthday with his sons at his window

Care assistant Matthew Fairley disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

Care assistant Matthew Fairley disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

Staff nurses Natalie Moore and Jon Stanciu working at the home

Staff nurses Natalie Moore and Jon Stanciu working at the home

Deputy manager Felipe Ferreira disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

With every beat of our heart we are fighting to keep this virus out of Beechvale Nursing Home in Killinchy. On a daily basis one of our biggest challenges is to keep spirits high, in front of residents and families. However, no-one can truly understand the amount of apprehension we are continually managing during each shift.

Trying to maintain a calm composure and cheery persona to keep a happy carefree atmosphere can be draining and exhausting.

Families are naturally concerned they may never see their loved ones again.

Staff from every department in our nursing home, on the other hand, are only too aware of the harsh reality going on as they willingly face risks each and every day coming into work.

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Phyllis Brown reading a letter from a child

Phyllis Brown reading a letter from a child

Phyllis Brown reading a letter from a child

The overwhelming responsibility each one of us has is overpowering and we are digging deep into our reserves of resilience to help us get through this complex period, even though the crippling anxiety is real for all of us.

Our manager Kathie Walker says: "Laughter is the best medicine for our residents and staff; it's the little things right now that make the big difference and in addition staying optimistic so we can beat this."

She continues: "Fear does not serve us, we need to be level-headed and sensible and support and trust each other during these difficult times, we need to remain hopeful and confident."

In Beechvale, we have 66 staff across all departments and everyone feels it is their duty to come to work as the 36 elderly people we look after rely on us to keep them free from infection, well fed and professionally cared for.

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Marie Hall and her daughter and granddaughter

Marie Hall and her daughter and granddaughter

Marie Hall and her daughter and granddaughter

Even though it is daunting, we must do our job. The residents in Beechvale are vulnerable and need our help. Regardless of the fact we are torn apart, with the devastating thought we could potentially infect our loved ones, who we leave at home, we have faith in our management and colleagues and support one another.

This is an unprecedented extreme experience for all of us and there is no doubt being present with our residents during this pandemic is courageous and takes inner strength.

However we are heartened, impressed and encouraged by the kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity of family members and local community groups. Without doubt they keep us going.

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Activity co-ordinator Nora doubling as an ice cream lady

Activity co-ordinator Nora doubling as an ice cream lady

Activity co-ordinator Nora doubling as an ice cream lady

We closed down early - two weeks before lockdown - and every single day our families are ringing to thank us for taking what was not an easy step.

We have received so many considerate gifts and donations. The rainbow pictures from local children are amazing and the cards and words of encouragement bring us to tears as we realise there are people out there thinking about us.

We read them together and even though our eyes fill up reading the words, our mouths smile from ear to ear and we carry those words with us throughout the day. It screams to us 'Continue doing an amazing job, you are doing well, we appreciate and value you.'

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Larry Fay celebrating his 91st birthday with his sons at his window

Larry Fay celebrating his 91st birthday with his sons at his window

Larry Fay celebrating his 91st birthday with his sons at his window

A lovely girl from Lisbane, Catherine Chambers, along with a team of volunteers, has generously provided us with homemade scrubs. She has worked tirelessly to prepare these for us.

Our director Richard Porter has relentlessly pursued and purchased us all the vitally important PPE we need. Richard has also provided portable changing tents and individual hand sanitisers, in an additional attempt to sustain our safety and wellbeing.

Goalposts were also recently delivered and provide much needed amusement to relieve the constant worry we are undergoing. Even if one of the bird tables has suffered the consequences.

We love our job, always have and always will, because we are caregivers, and for now we need to ignore what is going on in the outside world and concentrate on looking after our residents who desperately need us.

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Staff nurses Natalie Moore and Jon Stanciu working at the home

Staff nurses Natalie Moore and Jon Stanciu working at the home

Staff nurses Natalie Moore and Jon Stanciu working at the home

Our day has developed into being full-time entertainers, counsellors and masters of innovative ways of injecting constructive activities to preserve a positive disposition amongst residents and staff. We have all found strengths in different areas and use them to assist each other. Homemade cakes work for most of us while crocheted corona bears (left) are just the remedy for others!

As we cannot have outside artistes at the moment, Nora, our activities co-ordinator has literally been our resident entertainer. She is the 'Chesney Hawks' of Beechvale - the one and only. We are constantly impressed but not surprised our Nora has pulled several new games and activities out of her 'Mary Poppins' bag and introduced some awesome new ways of amusing our residents. It takes little encouragement these days for staff to join in as we realise the importance of encouraging each other.

One staff member was a hairdresser for years and is doing the ladies' hair each week and trimming the men's beards. We also have a staff member doing nails. It is the little things that make all the difference.

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Care assistant Matthew Fairley disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

Care assistant Matthew Fairley disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

Care assistant Matthew Fairley disinfecting supplies before they enter the home

We have never been afraid to go into work before this virus raised its ugly head and, although there is danger out there, we all feel comfortable during working hours as we are checked regularly, have all the PPE we require and every day it seems like new measures are being put in place to protect us.

Our manager is amazing; she has everyone's best interests at heart, residents, staff and families. She keeps communication open and is in continuous contact with all of us. She has ensured that we have everything we need and physically helps out.

During this period she has been out at all hours of the day and night searching for specific items of food and supplies for residents and staff.

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Eileen Mooney celebrating her 91st birthday

Eileen Mooney celebrating her 91st birthday

Eileen Mooney celebrating her 91st birthday

We all have immense trust in her to look after not only us but also our precious residents.

Without doubt our manager is leading us in an uphill battle; she is showing us how to live the so-called 'new normal' and doing everything within her power to give us inspiring, enjoyable and even some practical items.

Kathie Walker says that "when this is all over, and it will be over, not today or tomorrow, but sometime in the future, we will have a new respect and admiration for all those who put themselves without hesitation at risk for the needs of others, this is truly heroic".

Belfast Telegraph