Hospices step up support for care homes amidst Covid-19 outbreak

Categories: Care, Community Engagement, and Featured.
St Clare Hospice’s Compassionate Neighbours

St Clare Hospice in Essex and Wigan & Leigh Hospice in the north west have stepped up their support for local care homes, currently under pressure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

St Clare Hospice has developed a new service offering peer support to care home staff, as well as widening the reach of their Compassionate Neighbours volunteering project to offer a phone call befriending service to isolated residents.

The support is being offered to the more than 40 residential and nursing care homes across West Essex which are within the catchment area of the hospice. The West Essex CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) which oversees the delivery of NHS services in the area, have worked with St Clare to develop the model and are supportive of the project.

St Clare Hospice’s Compassionate Neighbours Project Manager, Stacey Towler, is co-ordinating the extra support for care homes and explains: “We already work in partnership with our local care homes, but we were determined to step up our offer of support at this time of urgent need. After speaking to care home managers, it became apparent that they would benefit from peer support for their staff, as well as phone call befriending for their residents who are feeling isolated during lockdown.

“Our Compassionate Neighbours project has been running for over two years now, supporting people who are socially isolated and living with a life-limiting illness or frailty, by matching them with a volunteer who offers companionship, emotional support, and a listening ear. The Compassionate Neighbours have had to cease their face-to-face visits due to coronavirus, but are continuing their friendships with their matched community member via telephone or video calls. A number of our volunteers are already matched with people who live in a residential care home, but with the UK under lockdown, many more care home residents are now experiencing social isolation.

“Our Compassionate Neighbours are a very special group of people, and with their skills and training in befriending, they are perfectly placed to respond to this growing need in care homes.

The hospice has established a buddying system, with each Compassionate Neighbour allocated one care home to which they make several phone calls a week to different residents who have said they are feeling lonely or isolated and would like to have a friendly call. “We hope that these relationships which are necessarily established over the telephone for now, will be able to develop into longer term face-to-face relationships once the coronavirus pandemic is over” Stacey adds.

St Clare Hospice has also created a range of virtual sessions led by a multi-disciplinary team which includes social workers, occupational therapists and a chaplain – to offer emotional and peer support, and encourage resilience among care home staff. The sessions are designed to offer a safe space for workers to talk about how they are being affected by Covid-19; help them to manage anxiety and promote self-care; and allow them to meet up ‘virtually’ with other care home workers that may have similar experiences.

The project aims to deliver 30 sessions over the next 10 weeks, with access for up to 60 care home workers per week. This means that up to 600 care home staff could benefit from the project.

Care homes in Wigan Borough are being offered free training in end of life care from Wigan and Leigh Hospice. The charity is offering training to all 22 nursing homes and 31 residential care homes in the borough to help them deal with the challenges of the outbreak.

Support is also being offered to a mental health unit in Leigh – which will soon have a dedicated COVID-19 unit – to train up their nurses in the key elements of good end of life care.

Debbie Jones, Hospice in your Care Home manager for the hospice, said: “The training we usually offer in end of life care has been adapted to the specific practical issues facing care homes during the coronavirus crisis, such as identifying the symptoms of COVID-19, managing respiratory problems, and promoting spiritual needs.

“It’s early days but the feedback I am getting so far is that the homes appreciate that they haven’t been forgotten and the reassurance offered by the training – especially in practical subjects such as care after death and discussing patient wishes for end of life – has been well received.”

Weekly online meetings are being held with the care home managers or senior staff and video training sessions are held twice-weekly on topics including symptoms at the end of life, dignity in death, caring for the staff’s own wellbeing and comfort rounds (in which residents’ comfort is regularly checked on throughout the day).

Currently, around 30 homes are accessing the training per week but this is expected to grow.

Tracey Gandesha, Care Manager at Jah-Jireh on Springfield Road, Wigan, said: “We at Jah-Jireh have all been so moved by the training we have received from this dedicated team. Being trained by those that are so compassionate and dedicated, has motivated my staff to want to bring these new skills into our work place. Their knowledge is not just in their heads but it’s rooted in their hearts and that’s why we have all felt so moved.

“My staff are enjoying this training so much that they are joining in in their own time. One staff member said Tuesdays and Thursdays have become her favourite days of the week because of this training. Families have loved the comfort round we have introduced for residents at end of life and we now put a poster on doors when a resident is at end of life, ensuring a peaceful environment for them and their families.

“Most of our 47 residents want to be with us when they are at the end of life, and the training and support we receive from the hospice has given us all the confidence to care for them. Staff have understood the importance of helping residents to plan for their future care and I feel that many of our staff are capable of helping those in our care to complete this with the right approach, with empathy and dignity.”

In the coming weeks, Hospice in your Care Home team are planning to extend their programme of education, to offer more frequent training, and will work closely with Wigan Council and Clinical Commissioning Group to identify any ongoing learning and support needs.

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