Apr 02, 2020

Residents and staff adapt to ‘new normal’ during COVID-19

 

Aged care operators are adjusting to a ‘new normal’, helping residents stay virtually connected to their loved during the COVID-19 lockdown and, when they listen to their extremely busy staff, find a box of groceries for home is what is needed most.

Across Australia, many aged care facilities have made the difficult decision to go into lockdown as the safest way to protect elderly residents from COVID-19.

Group Homes Australia made the decision a few weeks back, and residents are now settling into their new routine, without visitors, without trips outside their homes, and with reduced levels of physical activity.

Staff are also facing new challenges. There are heightened infection controls to comply with, increased support for residents who are unable to see their loved ones, and of course the ever-present worry about contracting or carrying COVID-19 itself.

This is a difficult time for everyone, but aged care staff and residents carry a heavier burden than most.

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Group Homes Australia is one of many operators to have made the difficult decision to place their homes in lockdown. Usually embedded into their communities, Group Homes have between six and 10 residents living together in traditional homes on regular suburban streets. But across the organisation, management, staff and residents are having to find new ways to connect and support each other during this crisis.

Residents coping well with changes

Group Homes Australia CEO, Tamar Krebs told HelloCare the decision to go into lockdown was gradual. 

“We initially limited visiting to immediate family only. Shortly after, this became one visitor per resident, per day. 

“Last week, we made the sad but very appropriate decision to go into full lockdown, where no visitors are allowed.”

Ms Krebs said residents are coping well, with staff finding new ways to help them connect with their loved ones.

“The residents are doing well,” she said. “Our care staff (which are referred to as homemakers at Group Homes) are working very hard to keep residents busy and maintain connection with family in different ways, through Facetime, videos, and looking at old photo albums.”

Families have understood the necessity of the lockdowns and have cooperated with the decision.

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“For the most part, families have been very respectful and appreciative of the clear communication from Group Homes,” said Ms Krebs. 

“They understand that we are all working towards the same goal, and that is to keep the residents healthy.”

Anxiety a normal response to COVID-19

Understandably, some staff have experienced anxiety during this difficult period, and have been supported throughout the response to COVID-19 by a team of social workers.

“We have an exceptional social work team that has been supporting the team emotionally,” Ms Krebs said. “They have met with staff members and have called each one. 

“The anxiety is high at the moment, not knowing what the future holds and how this coronavirus will impact them personally and professionally.” 

Staff working around the clock

By listening to staff’s concerns, Group Homes’ management has been able to provide tailored support.

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“It came to the co-CEOs attention last week that staff weren’t managing to get to the supermarkets early enough to get supplies for their home. They wake up early to get to work and arrive home late. Many of them were running low on toilet paper and food and were feeling the pressure. 

“We decided to send to all 120 staff food packages of fruit  and vegetables, milk, eggs, pasta, tomato sauces and – of course – toilet paper.”

Staff’s commitment to caring for the residents and keeping them safe and healthy has been exemplary. 

A survey of staff revealed high levels of commitment. “We were so happy to find out that staff felt supported,” Ms Krebs told HelloCare.

“The words of loyalty and commitment were extraordinary.”

Preparing for weeks

When it seemed that a future lockdown looked likely, Group Homes staff began taking steps to prepare.

“The homemakers made sure to prepare over the past few weeks. They have done this by asking families to bring in old photo albums, using technology to stay in touch through FaceTime and Zoom. We have also asked families to share videos, so residents can watch multiple times. 

Staff have also sent photos of the residents to family and loved ones every day so they can see how they are passing their time. “We send the families photos every day, to show them how the residents are keeping busy. Some residents are even writing cards to the family.”

Residents remain engaged in homemaking

Group Homes Australia’s philosophy centres around keeping residents engaged in “purposeful and meaningful” regular, day-to-day activities, and a period of lockdown has been no exception.

“Residents get involved in all aspects of the home,” Ms Krebs said, listing cooking, baking, gardening, setting the table, clearing up, folding laundry and going for walks around the neighborhood as regular activities that residents are still able to engage in.

At the same time, new activities have been added to the routine, such as life-size Jenga, sports that keep the residents active, and board games to take part in during quiet periods throughout the day.

 

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  1. I am so inspired by Group Home Australia. What a beautiful bunch of people you are. To send 120 food hampers to your staff! Wow! I would never have believed it if I hadn’t read your story. Thank you for lifting the game in aged care for all!!

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