St Elizabeth's chief executive Adam Sampson writes for the Bishop's Stortford Independent about the challenges faced by the Much Hadham charity during the coronavirus crisis
St Elizabeth's chief executive Adam Sampson writes for the Indie about the challenges faced by the Much Hadham charity during the coronavirus crisis and why he has been blown away by his staff's bravery...
In many ways, the pandemic has brought us together as a nation. Before March, I knew nothing of my neighbours; the doorstep clap for carers ritual has forced me to suspend my habitual British reserve and actually – gulp – talk to them. For a natural misanthrope, being part of a community is going to take some getting used to.
But our Thursday night chats – and I shall miss them – have also emphasised how far our pandemic experiences have differed. For my neighbours, Thursday evening and their weekly trip to the supermarkets have been the only occasions when they have ventured into the world outside their home. My life has continued much as before: the morning commute, the endless emails and meetings, the joys and occasional tragedies of a working life running a charity caring for highly vulnerable children and adults: those remain the staples of my daily existence.
And it is when my neighbours and I are discussing what I do for a living that this gulf in experience is most obvious. Deluged by stories of care homes in crisis, their tone when I mention my work is one of sympathy and concern. And when I try to explain that, in many ways, going to St Elizabeth's represents an escape from the tragedy of Covid, they look confused and, frankly, a little disbelieving.
But that is the truth. It is not that we have not been touched by Covid: four of our 170 or so residents have had positive tests over the past 15 weeks and one – someone who had been battling a very serious underlying health issue – sadly died during one of her many hospital stays. Add to that the 20 or so positive tests among our 650 staff (all of whom have made full recoveries), and you can see that we have had our share of infection.
So when I read stories of homes with tens of residents dying, with staff traumatised or taking flight, I simply do not recognise them. We have – by luck or judgement, who knows? – largely ridden out the first wave of the pandemic. Yes, some things have had to be changed: the site was locked down (visits have only just begun again); some resident activities were suspended; PPE is everywhere. But our school and college have remained open, staffing levels are high and the atmosphere is one of relaxed purpose. For many staff – as for me – coming to work is to take refuge from the stresses of the pandemic rather than to battle them.
But don't get me wrong – it's not been easy. When the pandemic first hit, we had to move immediately to put in place the sorts of measures – hygiene, social distancing, face masks, track and tracing – that the Government has been rolling out more gradually over the past three months.
And largely without help; despite the claims from ministers that they were throwing "a protective ring" around care homes, until very recent days we were left largely alone in facing the pandemic. Eighty per cent of our PPE came from the private market, with the remainder kindly donated by the local Hertfordshire community (our visors were created by Birchwood High School).
Testing was hugely difficult – we only got our first supply of test kits last week and are only now able to do the routine testing we had been asking for. And the financial impact was – and remains – significant, not least because of the enforced closure of our charity shops, although we have been able to meet some of our additional PPE costs via increases in funding from Herts County Council.
But those are minor gripes. As I say, overall the past few months have been peaceful and positive. Partly that is to do with the understanding and support of the local community and residents' families. Partly too, it is because the lack of effective Government oversight left us able to make sensible decisions about how we managed the crisis. But mostly it is thanks to the amazing commitment and – yes – bravery of our staff who, when other carers in other care homes turned and fled, calmly and compassionately went about their business.
And when I was clapping for carers every Thursday night, they were the ones I was clapping for.