Karen Turner Fieldhouse is a senior care worker at a care home in Worcestershire. We asked her to keep a diary of her work as the death toll from coronavirus increased in care homes across the UK.
l work 7 AM til 2 PM – I don't work the 12 hour shifts anymore. I work in senior healthcare, so l’m in charge of medication rounds, care plans and rotas, among other duties. It’s been tough making sure there are enough care workers. We have had quite a few members of staff go off sick with COVID-like symptoms.
There have been times when we've been short-staffed, so agency staff have been brought in to fill the gap. In normal circumstances, this is not company policy, but needs must. Ideally, on a perfect day – l can't remember the last time we had one – we would have a team leader on each unit and three staff on each floor, but we don't have the staff to do that now.
Once we’re on duty, we wear our protective wear throughout the shift. We have struggled with PPE; in the beginning we didn't have anything at all, but now we have masks, gloves and aprons. The materials are often quite poor quality. We had a lot of PPE donations from the public – we are allowed to wear this at home, but not at work. We have to wear only what we have been officially provided to ensure this equipment complies with safety requirements.
We've now been on lockdown in the facility for six weeks. During this time, we stopped all relatives and friends from visiting, which usually would happen after medication rounds. If the family want to bring residents anything, we ask them to leave these items at the door, and we then go out and collect them.
District nurses (DNs) come to the home to administer daily insulin to the residents after 10 AM –they've been really helpful and guided us as much as possible with wound care and assessments. The nurses are no longer allowed to dress the wounds of residents with chronic problems such as leg ulcers or lymphoma, so we have had to undertake all of this clinical work. l’ve felt concerned about us doing that – l worry about infections.
There are also so many different dressings the DNs use – sometimes fitted with compression, other times bandaged more loosely – targeting specific problems. As care home workers, we haven't been trained in wound care to that level. One lady has really bad cellulitis and l just don't feel confident treating conditions such as that. We photograph the wounds or any arising medical issues we identify with our residents and send those across to the GPs, so if the resident needs antibiotics, they are prescribed remotely.
A lot of our residents with dementia don't understand what’s happening at the moment. A couple of them are very upset and confused from not being able to see their families. We help them to use Skype, or they keep in touch on the phone every day. If they need to see family, we take them to a special room where they can look at their loved ones through a glass partition.
l took a resident to this room the other day and she cried her eyes out when their family left. I told her: “We are all in this together now and at some point, it will be over.” When they are finally able to be reunited, can you imagine what that will be like? There are going to be tears all round.
So far, I think we have been doing well protecting everyone from the virus, but we lost one lady last week. She had been ill for a while with a chest infection. They wouldn't come out and test her, though I'm not sure why. We have heard rumours since last week that testing will start, but there hasn't been any testing to date.
We have one lady who is confirmed as having COVID upstairs; she is very mobile and keen to get out and about and she doesn't understand why she has to stay cooped up in her room all the time and it's so hard containing her. We have to protect everyone. We did have an isolation unit, which was four rooms sectioned off; this was when the virus first took hold.
Hospitals were rushing our residents back to us as early discharges, so we had three residents come straight from the hospital to be isolated in our isolation unit for two weeks. Two had dementia and wanted to leave. They want to move about but we couldn't let them. What can you do? Residents aren't seeing their family now, which would usually help pacify [them].
We would have previously had day trips in the afternoon, but everything obviously stays in the home now. There's no change of environment for the residents, so it's just even more confusing for them. But we are all coping and doing as well as can be expected. You don't want see the terrible effect that the virus is having in other care homes but hearing the news that one-third of all deaths occur in care homes, you just can't let that affect your work.
I see my residents every day. l care about them so much – they are like family to us all. We have to keep a positive attitude. It's sad when you see them feeling destabilised by it all. So many keep asking us why we are wearing masks with visors and standing two metres from them in the dining room. They just can't understand it all. We don't want this to have a greater impact on our residents any more than it has done already.
I have admiration for everyone in healthcare. But right now l feel frustrated that the NHS, which we all deeply respect and admire, is the focus of everyone's support. My son works in ASDA, helping keep everyone fed. He is at more risk than most. So am l. I hope the NHS gets properly funded after this.
Little things have impacted the residents so much. The football being cancelled has really upset one lady who we care for. She loves her sport. The hairdressers can't come in either and they all look forward to having their perm or wash and blowdry. l have seen an overall decline in some people’s health – routine and hope plays a big part in people’s wellbeing. This will have a lasting impact long-term. Some have said to me that this feels worse than the Blitz.