Frantic care home owner forced to draft in staff with Covid

Caledonia residential care home, Holyhead; Pictured is Ann Bedford. Picture Mandy Jones

A care home was forced to draft in staff who have Covid-19 because it had nobody else to care for its 12 residents.

The nightmare scenario happened at the Caledonia home in Holyhead where 11 of the residents have Coronavirus themselves.

Owner Ann Bedford said the 15-bed home which specialises in dementia care only survived the weekend because two members of staff who had tested positive for Covid agreed to man the night shift, caring for the residents who also have the virus.

She took the desperate step after being told by the Isle of Anglesey Council that they did not have anybody available that they could send to help.

According to Ms Bedford, there was already a recruitment crisis in social care before the pandemic began and the problem was now even worse.

Ms Bedford has run the Caledonia since 1987, but she said it has been increasingly difficult to recruit staff over the last decade.

It normally has a core of between 13 and 15 staff, including a manager, two full time senior carers, a rota of approximately 11 part time care staff, two cooks and two cleaners.

But over the weekend, with so many of the team off ill or self-isolating, they had no night staff and only three day staff, no cleaners and only one cook.

She said: “Even before Covid impacted on us, residential homes were struggling to recruit and now there is absolutely no spare capacity in the system, nowhere to turn.

“I have never known a situation as bad as we faced over the last weekend. As a matter of course we have contingency plans in place to cope in emergencies but even these buckled under the strain. My heart sinks when I think about for the weeks and months ahead.

“We felt abandoned and alone. I called on social services for help but they were facing their own emergencies. The shortage of carers on Anglesey is at dangerous levels and is being intensified by the pandemic.

“I contacted one reputable care sector recruitment agency and their reaction when I asked for temporary staff was ‘You must be joking’. They were overwhelmed by pleas from desperate care home owners.”

I cannot praise enough the two staff who volunteered to come in despite having the virus.

“I feel desperately sorry that we were in a position where we had no choice other than to call on them.

The night-shift is tough and extremely tiring. It really knocked them for six and both these staff are now suffering much more from the symptomatic effects of Covid.

“I am so grateful to them but this is a situation which should not have been allowed to happen.”

All the residents of  Caledonia care home are double vaccinated, including the 11 of them  who have tested positive.

Ms Bedford, who has tragically lost four close personal friends to the virus, said: “Thankfully it is true to say that our affected residents could be a lot more ill if they had not been vaccinated.

“But it is also a fact that they still have symptoms and some still feel very unwell. The pandemic has not gone away and we should not be deceiving ourselves that it has. I know of several other care homes in Anglesey where residents are also positive. We have taken every precaution there is, but it has still managed to get in.

“We have been through so much already I really don’t know how much more we can take. “I urge those in authority not to forget that if social care provision crumbles then so does the NHS. We are a vital support to the NHS and as another hard winter sets in that support will be needed more than ever.

The Caledonia is now in lockdown, unable to accept any more residents and closed to visitors until September 29.

Ms Bedford also runs another small scale facility four miles away, the 15-bed Plas Dyffryn care home.

She said: “At one stage over the weekend the authorities advised us to transfer staff from there to Caledonia but that would put staff and residents at Plas Dyffryn at increased risk. “It is also not feasible because we simply do not have enough care staff on our books to stretch that thinly, and the Caledonia is specialised for dementia care so staff here need to be trained in those highly specific skills.

“The sad truth is that we should not be in a position where such desperate measures are even on the table. We are in a more precarious state than ever before.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “My heart goes out to Ann, the staff, the residents and their families for this terrible predicament which is not of their making.

“Quite simply, the Caledonia was placed in a totally impossible position, and it really should not have come to this.

“Ann and her team have been nothing short of heroic over these past 18 months and the Isle of Anglesey Council were not able to provide the support they required in their hour of need.

“There has been a deepening recruitment crisis is social care for many years and the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The situation in which the Caledonia finds itself is sadly far from unique. Care homes and domiciliary care companies are having an absolute nightmare in terms of staffing and it is only a matter of time before one or more of them has to close.

“The Welsh Government will be receiving hundreds of millions of pounds from the UK Government as a result of the increase in National Insurance and it is imperative that money is used wisely to address the chronic underfunding that is the root cause of low pay in the sector.

“Social care is now at a crossroads and it is vitally important that the Welsh Government plot the correct path to ensure these major issues are addressed as a matter of urgency.”