When I arrived, I was greeted at a front door decorated with pictures of angels, unicorns and rainbows, apparently drawn by the young parents of residents. “Do you mind going around your back?” Asks Anne Brand, executive director of Sainte Cecilia’s Care Group. No visitor has ventured through the front door in a while. As the pandemic closed, all visits were suspended to protect the vulnerable.
I am met at the back door by Walls (15 years of military service) with his imposing silhouette which completely blocks the door. “I need to check your temperature first,” he says. “Thirty-six point eight, come in”, and I am taken to what appears to be the service district of the Victorian building.
The home, which specializes in nursing for people at high risk of “deterioration,” was originally the Dorchester Hotel. It is close to Scarborough Spa, which was the UK’s premier seaside resort and once an upscale destination for the wealthy Londoners. But it declined in the 1970s when package holidays drew vacationers to guaranteed sunny climates.
Mike Padgham, owner and general manager of Sainte-Cécile’s healthcare services, agreed to give me access to the house. He has been a strong advocate for healthcare sector reform for a number of years, calling for better compensation and recognition of the careers of the work performed by the staff of the sector. It took a number of weeks to gain access to the house as permission was required from residents, their families and staff. My visit was registered with the Care Quality Commission and I had to wear full PPE.
I was asked about my health, the role of my partner’s key workers, and was asked to sign a health declaration. The white PPE suit covered me from head to toe, I wore a mask, a face shield and protective gloves. It was as hot, uncomfortable, unsightly and impersonal as possible.
It’s just before lunch and the TV is on. I’m spotted by cheerful resident Angela Morgan, along with team leader Corina Grigoruta, and she smiles for my camera. She has been a resident for six years. I may have been the first person outside the healthcare setting that she saw in three months. The scene is comforting and it is hard to believe the devastation that this pandemic has had on the healthcare sector. Dedicated staff, until recently described and qualified as unskilled, are now considered a key worker.
“It’s frustrating,” says Walls. “The staff have been amazing here. I have immense respect for the NHS but social care has been left out. The work has not been recognized for a long time. ”
The first two weeks of foreclosure were particularly bad, he says. A woman arrived without any symptoms, but later died of Covid. Then, within two weeks, 10 people died. “It was heartbreaking,” he says, remembering when he came to manage the last hours of a dying resident so that the resident of the next room died soon after.
“I would have preferred to be in Iraq,” he said. “This is a situation you were waiting for there, we had the training. We did not expect this in a care home. We were unable to bring in a general practitioner. It was horrible. It was really difficult for the staff to take. “
Allan Booth is lying in bed, eating his dessert for lunch. Nearby, there is a photo of him as a town crier and on his wall another of him with his contemporaries. He was known locally as Mr. Scarborough for his services to the city. “I did it because I loved it,” he says. Thirty-one years as town crier but also 19 years as Santa Claus of the city. Every Christmas, Santa Claus from Scarborough arrived in a fishing boat in the harbor that Booth could see from his bedroom window in St Cecilia’s. He did not like water so much, so every year he organized a double stuntman to get on the boat and, thanks to the magic of Christmas, managed to change position, on dry land, before the young spectators don’t notice it. Booth liked to talk. Vera Lynn had died that day and as we were leaving, the 88 year old woman serenaded us with an interpretation of We will see each other again.
Sybil Thompson was lying in bed. Its beauty and balance are not diminished by its years of discoloration. Nursing assistant Kasia Kapuscinka helped him with his medication and a coconut milk drink. A photograph of the large extended family of 97 looked up from the wall next to his bed, easy to see. Despite his fragility, his energy had no limits; his laughter and his zest for life filled the room.
The afternoon sunlight shone on his face. She had celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary with her husband, Robert, at home. Until recently, he too lived in the next room. A loving couple; “Until death do us part”.
The word “family” keeps coming up. “Many families have been fantastic,” says Walls. “They understood everything. Even gave money just to say thank you. ”
“They’re like a family” is a widely used phrase, but it is hard not to feel the pain, pressure and fatigue experienced by many caregivers. Many residents have been at home for several years. Their needs were met on a daily basis and the links forged. Their learned history and their family relationships understood. Physically and emotionally, isolation has wreaked havoc on the country as a whole, but work in retirement homes has long been under-valued and under-represented.
- Clockwise from top left: Donna Henderson, Sarah Earp, Corina Grigoruta, Jojo Wilson, Anne Brand and Graham Pryce.
Donna Henderson, Registered Manager: “We have been through a difficult time and it has been difficult for all of us, but I have a great team and we are doing well in supporting each other. The staff have done an incredible job in maintaining high morale! We are all proud of how we handled these unpredictable events. ”
Sarah Earp, chief housekeeper: “I came to work here directly from school at the age of 15. I’ve been here for 22 years and now I’m the head of housekeeping. I make sure that we are well supplied with PPE, I make sure that all cleaning is done on time and up to date. We now have a 24 hour cleaning schedule, as directed by Public Health England. You have bugs at home, we have always managed to keep it to a minimum. To keep things at bay, we sometimes have to isolate residents. With regard to PPE, some people do not understand the problem. We haven’t exhausted. This is the price that some people expect from us. I think it’s exorbitant. We pay £ 1.30 per box for the vinyl gloves, which is great. But recently some suppliers have tried to charge £ 16 a box. This is where we need government help. We need them to stop raising prices. “
Corina Grigoruta, team leader: “I came to the UK for a better future. This business gave me a chance that I did not have in Greece. They gave me the chance to develop my skills. I like to work with people. It’s so nice to help people and make them happy every day. I think we were all stressed at the start of the lockdown. We also need to take care of our mental health. We are a very good team. We helped residents be stress-free and explained Covid-19. We have protected them and ourselves, which is very important. I have two children and they are very proud of me. At first, we understood that we had to stay separated. I was also worried about my family. I was isolated in my room. It was good. We could manage. ”
Jojo Wilson, health assistant: “I started working on March 4 and then, seven days later, the lock came. This is my first role in care and I love it. I’m a little glad I started when I did it because you just had to keep going. Everyone got together as a team; the staff, management were amazing. It was scary because we didn’t know what was going to happen, if we were going to lose people. Unfortunately, we have lost people. But we just had to keep going, these people needed our help. I love the job. I want to be able to continue and get my NVQs and progress. There have been a lot of highlights. There is a resident called Susan and on my birthday, she gave me a card and wrote, “Thank you for everything you do for me. I said to myself “oh my God”. It’s so rewarding. “
Anne Brand, Executive Director: “For me, the past few months have been a whirlwind, adapting to homework, Covid-19 returning to work and family life, supporting frontline caregivers in our homes and the pressures of being a good parent and there for my family and home school. It was all a challenge and there were good days and bad days. I am extremely proud to work in social services. My daughter leaving me notes saying “good job mom”; saying that she’s proud of me helped me when things were difficult. ”
Graham Pryce, cleaning lady: “I started in May 1989, I’ve been here for 31 years. I work in housekeeping and do all the cleaning, polishing, dusting and dishes that need to be done at home. I’ve been tested twice and I’m fine. ”
“We had too much criticism without doing anything,” says Walls. “We don’t want to be another statistical promise. “
“We are a group of forgotten guys who do incredible work. It is not unskilled work. It’s very skilled work. The staff here have been heroes. “