The scandal among the scandals of this pandemic is the structure of nursing homes in Britain.
We will return to this dreadful tragic episode in our world history, and our children and grandchildren will ask us, “Did it really happen?” Have you really left the most vulnerable in our society – the elderly, the infirm, the helpless, the confused, the sick and the weak – in retirement homes, away from their close relatives? Did you leave them ravaged by a deadly virus and did very little to help them? “
Because that’s what’s going on right now. There are elderly people – many with Alzheimer’s disease, many with dementia, many frail – in thousands of Britain’s top-to-bottom homes, and they are at high risk.
Once COVID-19 infiltrating these homes is monumental work to protect the residents inside. Respiratory disease attacks the lungs, making breathing difficult.
Experts tell us that it most hits those who suffer from the underlying conditions. It has become a catchphrase which means that most of us think it could not apply to us or anyone we know or love.
And yet it is. It basically covers everyone.
I interviewed fit men in their thirties who collapsed after training. I spoke to the children of medical directors who still work after retirement, to nurses with young children and to retirees. They are all susceptible to this disease.
So imagine if you are in a residential house. A residential home is not a nursing home.
You’re not sick. You are just an elderly person. You just need a little more support – a little more help getting out of bed in the morning, preparing meals, bathing, going to the bathroom, being helped down the stairs.
You may have dementia. You can not. But you have company every day. There are always people around you and there are assistants who will help you brush your hair, pick up the soup to your mouth and read the newspaper.
These caregivers have no medical training. They are not nurses. But if you feel sick, they call the GP or the community nurse to come see you.
There is always help at hand. This gives you security. It’s security in your old age. You don’t worry about burglaries. You don’t worry about meals. You don’t have to worry about cleaning.
And then there is a global pandemic and your nursing home is infected. You can’t go out. Your loved ones cannot enter, but the virus spreads through the house – and one by one, residents get sick.
But even still, after a lifetime of working and caring for others, those you love the most cannot come and say goodbye to you as you get more and more sick and take your last breath.
the coronavirus changed everything – and that revealed the very weak lines of our social protection structure.
Caregivers are poorly paid and generally work long hours on zero-hour contracts.
One said, “We are treated like second-class citizens. We believe that NHS personnel are privileged in comparison.
“If I call sick, they ask me,” Are you too sick to work? Can you still come because we are really understaffed? “
“I don’t know if we have the right PPE (personal protective equipment). All I see is that it is very different from what I see on the news. “
These are the people who take care of our elderly men and women – those who have spent their whole lives contributing to society.
Their dedication to residents and their duty to care are often out of the question. We have seen inspiring sacrifices.
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At Beechside Home in Liverpool, nursing assistants left their family home and entered the nursing home to prevent the virus from entering the home. They did not want to run the risk of introducing COVID-19 and infecting residents.
As Caregiver Chloe Williams said, “They are ultimately our family and we would like anyone to do the same for us.
“There are people in this house who have been at war. They were midwives and social workers … they fought for our country and it is we who fight for them … we reimburse them for what they did for us. “
There are terrible statistics on the number of deaths in retirement homes across the country. Virus epidemics in a closed community like a nursing home are incredibly difficult to control.
The environment is very tactile. The assistants at Beechside spent the afternoon dancing and holding hands with the residents. There were frequent hugs, caresses and kisses on the cheek. This is what makes them special. This is what makes the residents smile.
But it also makes it one of the most likely places for the virus to replenish and multiply if it gets inside.
They took drastic measures by moving the assistants inside. Most of the people we talked to downplayed it – saying it seemed like the most natural thing in the world for them. So far it has worked, but for how long?
In the middle of the afternoon, there was a call. A neighboring house needed masks. Could they help? Beechside had managed to procure a comfortable amount of PPE for its staff – masks, gloves and plastic pins. These are probably not enough in the event of an epidemic, but the minimum amount and in accordance with NHS England guidelines.
The corner home asking for help is Oak Springs – a nursing home that has suffered from an epidemic and has claimed 14 lives in the past two weeks.
Only two who were taken to hospital were tested, and both were positive. But few people think that it is anything other than COVID-19 that precipitated their death.
The house and everyone working inside is distraught. The manager herself is now sick with symptoms, but she told us before she got sick that “they were fighting” and she couldn’t praise her staff enough. “They are in high demand,” she said.
A relative who wanted to remain anonymous and whose grandmother is inside the home compared the epidemic to a fire. “I felt like my nan was in this burning building and it was difficult to get an answer … and as I always said, the only difference with this is that you just can’t see the fire: fire is a virus. “
There is a lot of controversy over how these epidemics are treated. There are considerable problems in moving older people out of the environments they know and making them strange. It can often be more damaging than beneficial.
But the local MP believes that the time has come to think radically about how to deal with the most vulnerable in our society. We cannot let the elderly perish, insists Paula Barker, MP for Liverpool Waverley.
“Everyone’s life should be valued equally,” she said. “I don’t care if you are 108 or 10 years old … your life is as precious when you are young as it is when you are old.”
“They have all contributed to society … these people deserve the best chance of survival and we must do everything in our power to guarantee their protection. “