Inside care home hell of staff and elderly ‘too scared to leave their rooms’
The colourful “Superheroes Work Here” banner hanging proudly above the entrance is starting to look a bit tired. And it’s no surprise because the brave staff inside Westbourne House Nursing Home are absolutely exhausted.
It is one of a group of three nursing homes in Sheffield – now reduced to two – that have been clobbered by Covid-19.
The virus killed 27 residents and around 100 more tested positive.
At Westbourne alone they lost 16 residents, one worker ended up in a coma for weeks and a nurse there still suffers from Long Covid.
Many of the 42 people who currently live at Westbourne are still too scared to leave their rooms.
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Despite staff trying to encourage them to join activities, the once-bustling community lounge with its high-back chairs and large TV is silent and empty.
Staff say residential care has been largely ignored in the Covid crisis.
After taking careful safety precautions, Westbourne opened its doors to the Daily Mirror. It was emotional, as tearful staff told of watching the deaths of residents, who are “like family” to them.
The virus struck Newfields first and it ended up closing after it swept the home “like wildfire”. The survivors relocated to Northfield and Westbourne.
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Clinical nurse Laura Hibbard, 36, says the pandemic has been pure trauma: “It was like playing Russian roulette and I wouldn’t be surprised if staff have PTSD. You could see the fear when they arrived for work. We are still scared it will come back.
“And a lot of our older residents said it was worse than the war, they say they had more freedom in the war.”
Laura and her colleagues urge the Government to raise funding for “Cinderella” social care. They warn of a staffing crisis as many quit the industry, not prepared to risk their lives again for the minimum wage.
We are exposing the broken care system with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ITV News.
The Mirror’s Fair Care for All campaign calls for all older people to be treated with dignity and respect.
Our demands include the creation of national care service to run alongside the NHS, the appointment of minister for the elderly and a properly-funded care system that works for everyone.
The campaign also calls for a fair deal for care workers.
We are calling for carers to be paid the real Living Wage, an end to home visits of 15 minutes or less and an increase in the allowance for unpaid carers.
Laura explained: “I feel more like 96 now, not 36. Staff have left and some are working in factories. It’s always been tough to recruit, now it’s even harder.”
Nobody knows how Covid got into their homes but when it did, the nightmare began.
Laura said: “Within days it had spread. We had to swab everyone and came back with a massive list of positives.
“It was horrible telling someone they had it. It was like giving a death sentence.” One woman was so distraught, she put her head in her hands and said ‘Oh God. I’m going next!’”
Staff were not spared. Clinical manager Maureen Parr, 63, is so shattered by Long Covid, retirement can’t come quickly enough.
“I can’t go up and down the stairs without struggling for breath,” she said. “I don’t sleep properly and I wake up in a panic as I can’t breathe.
“It’s the worst thing I’ve seen in all my years nursing. When I get home I’m exhausted. Covid has aged me 10 years. I feel we were abandoned by the Government.”
Care assistant Luwam Gebreab, 34, said: “I really did dread coming to work. You’d be talking to someone normally one day, four days later they were struggling to breathe and next day they’d gone.”
Many staff had to cut short their own recovery as they only get statutory sick pay of £94 a week.
For the residents stalked by Covid, life turned into an ordeal. Great gran Shirley Scott, 85, who was with her late husband, Gordon, for 65 years, said: “The loneliness has been horrible, not being out of my room for a year. I had Covid but don’t remember it, I was bad for three days.”
But she said she will be forever grateful to her carers: “There should be special payments for the girls who worked throughout it. They’ve been heroic.”
One of those is former hairdresser Anne Clark who puts Shirley’s curlers in ready for a visit from her daughter. But Anne insists: “Shirley helped me through. We’ve been through it together. She’s like family.
“We don’t do this job for the money, the money is rubbish. People in care do it for compassionate reasons.
“It is an absolute privilege to care for someone who is coming to the end of their life.”
‘Don’t you demonise our staff’
Care home boss Nicola Richards has slammed the Government for “demonising” exhausted workers who have put their “own lives at risk”.
She says the social care sector is in urgent need of reform as it faces a staffing crisis.
And Nicola added it is “unfair and unforgivable” the Government want mandatory vaccines for care home workers as it will deter new recruits.
There are 120,000 vacancies in the UK’s social care sector, with the two homes Nicola runs under Palms Health Care among those short on numbers.
“We have lost about 15 to 20% of staff, they left because of the pandemic,” she said. “There were that many scared to death.
“The thought of potentially firing staff [if they don’t have the vaccine] who’ve worked through this pandemic without testing in place, without PPE in place, is horrendous. It feels like a kick in the teeth, having to do that to staff who have put their own lives at risk.”
Nicola, who is also chair of the Sheffield Care Association, added: “We need reform desperately because at the moment it is a postcode lottery. Just 15 miles away another authority is paying £100 more for each resident.”
Kate was moved by OAP snap
The sight of Jack Dodsley, 80, dancing with his carer proved an inspiration to the Duchess of Cambridge, who launched her exhibition of pandemic photography.
Jack and Kayleigh Jupp, then 27, were snapped at Newfields home before it was closed after the Covid outbreak. He had learned to dance with his wife, who died a year before.
Kate saw the picture in The Mirror and was struck by “desperately sad and uplifting” pics of people supporting the vulnerable.
Her Hold Still project aimed to salute the “resilience, bravery and kindness” of the nation.
Palms Row Health Care, who run the sister homes, said it captures “the spirit of hope and tenderness”.