Opinion: Daniel Carmel-Brown - The pandemic has taught us so much

19 Mar 2021

Last week marked one year since we took the incredibly difficult decision to restrict visits in our care homes due to the pandemic. The Government announced the first national lockdown nearly two weeks later, and thankfully, our early decision helped to slow the spread of Covid-19 in our homes and resources.

Looking back over the past year, we have learnt some valuable lessons.

The role that enhanced infection control procedures in our resources have played has undoubtedly saved lives. Although this was done in a response to Covid-19, we have also seen a drastic reduction in cases of flu and other respiratory viruses that we would have usually seen, and therefore far fewer deaths from these too.

We have learnt so much about the flexibility of people at any age to adapt and change habits when necessary. There are now people in their 90s joining virtual events and Zoom calls without aid or assistance, whereas a year ago, they would have been reliant on one of our care buses taking them to a community centre for social interaction and entertainment. These online offerings must continue to be a feature of day to day life for older people, not replacing in-person conversations and activity, but adding to them, enhancing them, and increasing them. For those who were lonely or isolated even before the pandemic, this new way of communicating is a very welcome change.

Over the last year, we have also learnt about the resilience of our residents, tenants, members, volunteers and staff and been in awe of their ability to share their positivity with those around them. We now talk about mental health and wellbeing more openly as a society than we did a few years ago, but the challenges our staff and residents faced this year were unlike any other. We have used the word ‘unprecedented’ for this pandemic countless times before, and we have learnt that with most things that are unprecedented, it will take time to recover. We are here to support our staff, volunteers and those we care for, every step of the way in this recovery, but we are under no illusion that coming out of the pandemic, there will need to be a continued focus on the totality of our wellbeing.

With Pesach around the corner, we are reminded of just how important it is to be able to connect to loved ones even if we cannot physically be together.

From the 8th March, the Government guidelines allow for each resident in care homes to have one designated visitor whom they are allowed to see and hold hands with. Although additional PPE must still be worn, this small but significant contact has already been a relief for those who have been able to do so.

Among the many things we have become more acutely aware of is how much of an impact visitors and relatives have on supporting the wellbeing of care home residents.

Because of this, we have also learnt much about communication, the importance of regular correspondence and meetings with the relatives of those in our care homes and being open and honest with them about the challenges face. We have learnt to better support communication between families and residents, and this is something that we will take forward after the pandemic has subsided.

Most importantly, over the last year, we have learnt that the Jewish Care family is far larger than we could have ever imagined, and the support the community and our partner organisations have shown has been invaluable and immeasurable. It is down to the partnerships that existed and new ones that emerged, that we were able to pull through for the older members of this community.

Even with the Government laying out a roadmap out of the pandemic, there will still be a number of things that will have to stay with us. One of the biggest lessons of the past year has been that is it almost impossible to know what the next year will bring. We do not know how long we will continue to test our visitors for Covid-19, take their temperatures on entry to homes or resources, wear masks, or socially distance, but there are a number of things we have learnt over the last year that are definitely here to stay.