Covid: Llangollen care home manager describes working through pandemic like 'walking through tar'

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A care home manager has described working through the third wave of coronavirus as trying to "walk through tar".

Both staff and residents are increasingly concerned, with anxiety levels rising over visitors bringing the virus into care settings.

Bethan Mascarenhas, Manager at Old Vicarage Care Home in Llangollen, said: "We're obviously facing another quite difficult time.

"It brings up a lot of the feelings that we've had previously - the anxiety and the fear and also a renewed sense of isolation."

Both staff and residents are trying their best to not let Omicron fears dampen their Christmas spirits.

Bethan said that the returning sense of fear is being felt by not only members of staff, but also the people who live at the care home, who staff look after.

"They (residents) are more fearful of having visitors and not being able to go out as much.

Despite it being almost two years since the pandemic started, Bethan feels as if any progress made towards a more 'normal' pre-pandemic life has been reversed.

"Obviously before the Omicron variant, things were slightly more relaxed and we were still being cautious but it's that fear again and the anxiety of 'what if I bring it in?' And it really feels almost like the beginning of the pandemic in some respects.

The Old Vicarage Care Home is a 5 minute walk into town centre, with views over the town and Dinas Bran castle.

"It's such a difficult thing to live with and to go through Christmas with."

The Welsh Government has implemented changes to care home guidance, including mask wearing and regular lateral flow tests.

In relation to these changes, Bethan said: "Guidance does state, and the inspectorate has also said, that they would like us to not be taking a risk averse approach and to not shut our doors to visitors.

"They now have enforced mask use, whereas previous to the Omicron variant, people could come into care settings and possibly take their masks off in peoples bedrooms or a private or designated space.

"We didn't do that but I know that was allowed within the guidance, so mask use has come in.

The manager of the care home said, "We just have to do the best we can to have a really nice Christmas."

"We have to do an LFT now every time that we're on shift, so for our team, that means getting up maybe an hour or so earlier so that they can get their tests done. We're just constantly asking for more in our sector I think."

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Welsh Government published guidance on visits to care homes, in order to prevent and control the virus in Wales. 

This guidance, which was originally published in June 2020, was updated last Friday (December 17), and reflects a much more restricted Christmas for care homes.

Key changes to care home guidance:

  • Visits out of the home should cease if there's an outbreak of Covid in the home.

  • Visits into the home should be restricted to essential visitors only during an outbreak.

  • For adult care homes not in an outbreak, residents should take LFT if they've been out on a visit. This should be taken every day for seven days and then every other day until 14 days.

  • Recommendation that providers should generally limit visiting to more frequent visitors who are more familiar with the visiting procedures in place at the home. Providers should risk assess less frequent visitors.

  • Visitors should continue to wear face coverings while in a resident’s room or a designated visiting area.

  • Visiting health professionals need negative Covid-19 test result in last 24 hours rather than 72 hours, before entering a care home.

Bethan said they have not had an outbreak at the Old Vicarage Care Home yet: "We've been very safe so that's something that we've managed to celebrate throughout.

"But there have been times where it's been like walking through tar - you've just got to keep on going, you can't really stop because if we stop and we get low in morale, the people that we care for will feel that, and it's about keeping them going."

Residents at The Old Vicarage Care Home have dressed up as elves in an effort to help "keep that Christmas spirit alive".

John Palmer's wife Lyn is a resident at the Old Vicarage Care Home, where he volunteers. He full of praise for the staff who work there, but says as Christmas and the New Year approaches, he's worried and feels "Apprehensive".

He said, "Bethan has worked incredibly hard to keep Covid out of this care home as well as providing stimulating activities for the residents who are in here, because obviously, it affects them.

"They weren't having visitors and then it opened up during the summer so that they could have a lot more visitors, but now we're not sure what's going to happen.

Despite changes to guidance ultimately equating to a more restricted Christmas for Welsh care homes, at the Old Vicarage Care Home, they are making a real effort to not let this dampen their Christmas spirits.

Bethan said: "We just have to do the best we can to have a really nice Christmas. We do a lot in-house, so we've got Father Christmas coming for a socially distanced visit outside, some of our residents are dressed up as elves and it's trying to keep that Christmas spirit alive."