The chief executive of a housing association has spoken of fears that the easing of lockdown rules will make keeping residents safe from coronavirus more challenging.
Geraldine Gilpin said the Abbeyfield & Wesley Housing Association has not had a positive Covid-19 case and is working hard to keep the virus out.
The charity manages 18 sheltered houses across Northern Ireland as well as Palmerston residential dementia care home in east Belfast.
Ms Gilpin described a pandemic journey of tracking rapidly updating government guidelines, securing personal protective equipment (PPE) as early as February, residents self-isolating after attending hospital, and a “rocketing” cleaning regime.
“We have been very lucky so far. We have worked hard at that, we have been able to protect our residents, and I think our fear now is that, when lockdown eases and we start having more people coming in, that is going to be more of a challenge,” she told the PA news agency.
“So we’re looking at how we can continue to protect people even when they are visiting families and see how that goes.
“We haven’t had any cases so far, which we are really thankful for.”
Ms Gilpin praised staff for not just caring for residents as usual but comforting them in the absence of family visits and coping with PPE demands.
“One of the difficulties we had at the start was that it was difficult to get clear information, and I don’t think everybody really understood what was happening so we were trying to go through all the government guidance very carefully, but then there was lots of other information coming out through social media and families were picking up on that so we were having to explain what the government guidance was,” she said.
“The other challenge was that guidance changed rapidly – I could be writing a protocol and by that afternoon it was out of date and I had to change it.
“The staff have been absolutely fabulous, I could not praise them enough. They have all the challenges everyone in society has but then they have to come in, do their work, do everything they can to protect the residents, know that the residents are really missing friends and family, they have to almost take on that role as well.
“It’s very warm in a care home at the best of times, and then wearing PPE. It is a real challenge and some of them were absolutely exhausted.
“Then our cleaning regimes have rocketed – again that’s a challenge for the staff whose hands were actually beginning to get really dry because they were using so many different products.
“It’s been one of those things that, looking back on it maybe next year, we’ll think ‘How did we do that, how did we manage?’ but you just go from day to day to day, it’s the only way you can manage.”
Palmerston home manager Paul Johnston said ways of working had changed almost overnight.
“It was going from your everyday norm, to having to change everything – who comes into the building, who leaves the building, how we get residents’ appointments, how people attend hospitals when they need to. and then ever ongoing changing regulations in the Public Health Agency around staff testing, resident testing – which we’re very fortunate to have negative across the board and no cases currently,” he said.
Mr Johnston said less contact with their families has been very challenging for residents.
“You can see increased anxiety, missing that family contact,” he said.
“How we have tried to combat that is by changing how we do things, looking at different elements of communication including two different tablets for each side of the building where families can FaceTime, having phone calls more regularly, and also keeping families informed.
“We would make contact on a Monday and a Friday giving them updates, any testing, any procedures that are going on, if we have any events. It’s reassuring for families to know what is happening.
“We’re quite lucky in Palmerston, we have good garden space where we can do safe social distancing.”