Clair Anderson decided to lock down the care home she manages in mid-March, a week earlier than the others nearby. She cranked up the cleaning and told her 27 elderly residents, some as old as 97, that they had to start physical distancing and shielding.
It seems to have worked. Eskgreen care home, a small council-run facility on the banks of the River Esk in Musselburgh, on the eastern edge of Edinburgh, has not had a single case of Covid-19 among its staff or residents. Most of Scotland’s care homes have had cases; many have had multiple deaths.
“We closed our doors a week before we were advised to by East Lothian council,” Anderson said. There was some grumbling from council officials, but she could see what was coming.
“We drafted in extra domestic staff with the purpose of continuously cleaning handrails, surfaces and door handles; our staff members are particularly proficient at doffing and donning PPE [personal protective equipment] and also recognising changes in the baseline of our residents.”
The lockdown had an immediate impact on Eskgreen’s routines. The fortnightly sing-along sessions by an entertainer, Anita Watman, who specialises in rock’n’roll and Vera Lynn classics from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, had to move into the garden. Luckily the weather has been fine, so she has not had to use her one-person gazebo.
The yoga instructor’s sessions were cancelled, so the home’s activity coordinator had a crash course in adapting exercise routines with residents sitting in chairs. Karaoke nights were shifted to the home’s conservatory, with residents carefully distanced and staff wearing PPE.
It has been a little strange and awkward, said Anderson. Even so, “we get the bar out, and we have a wee sing-song. It’s great.”
The lockdown also had an immediate effect on family visits, as it did in care homes across the UK. They take place through windows or – where possible, in the garden. For residents with dementia, that can pose problems. “For some, it’s very, very confusing,” said Anderson. “It’s like explaining to a small child what social distancing means; it just won’t happen.”
One resident found it very hard to understand why her family was sitting 5 metres away from her, with face masks on, so she picked up her walking frame, repeatedly moving towards them. The resident was persuaded to keep apart with “great difficulty”.
Anderson decided to lock Eskgreen down a week before Mother’s Day and the UK-wide announcement on 23 March. The residents adapted to the new regime and were content at first. The home used its Facebook page and smartphones to share stories and set up video calls to help maintain family contact.
But the long lockdown has had an effect, particularly for those residents spending long periods in their rooms alone.
“Their mental health is impacted by feeling isolated,” she said. “We’ve tried to engage people with their families as much as possible, but it has been really difficult. The general mood has lifted now because it looks like we’re nearing the end of the tunnel, but it was quite dark for a while.”