A care home group is inviting family members to move in with their loved ones as part of efforts across social care to try to keep the most vulnerable people in touch with relatives as rising Covid-19 cases trigger fresh lockdowns.
Brendoncare, which runs 10 care homes in the south of England, will allow a relative of newly-admitted residents to stay in a room next door for free for a fortnight, in a bid to soften fears about separation and to encourage people to start using the home for short respite care stays.
Other chains have been installing airtight partitions with intercoms and outdoor pods to allow visits as hundreds of homes close their doors to visitors to keep out rising levels of virus infections in the wider community. More than one chain has started including relatives in staff testing to allow them to help with their loved ones’ care inside homes.
The moves come as health authorities in areas in the north-west, north-east, West Midlands and south Wales, which are under wider local lockdowns, instruct homes to close their doors to all but essential and end-of-life visits.
The government also indicated on Friday it would require the closure of care homes to visitors in areas with a high incidence of the virus, again with an exemption likely for residents at the end of life.
Families have complained that the health and wellbeing of residents has declined dramatically in the absence of face-to-face contact. The charity Age UK has said people are “dying of sadness” due to being cut off from loved ones for long periods.
“It’s a two-week holiday, if you like, when you are in the bubble with your loved one,” said Zoe McCallum, the chief operating officer of Brendoncare, which is trialling the moving-in offer in two of its homes in Hampshire.
“We hope it will give people confidence in care homes again. We have to build confidence among the relatives.”
With hundreds of care homes closed to visitors – including 133 operated by the UK’s largest private provider HC-One and 48 operated by Care UK – owners are seeking ways to maintain some contact between relatives and residents.
Care homes have seen occupancy levels fall sharply during the pandemic, placing many in financial jeopardy. Homes went from being 88% to 79% full, according to one internal industry survey, with providers losing thousands of new admissions per week. Brendoncare’s occupancy is currently about 8% below the same period last year.
Welford Healthcare has installed screened-off visitor rooms in two homes in the south-west, with rooms divided by an airtight glass partition and fitted with an intercom. In an attempt to make the room feel normal it has fashioned a semi-circular coffee table on both sides of the glass. One 90th birthday was celebrated with plates of cake on either side of the glass. Previously only window visits were possible.
“We are booked up two to three weeks in advance,” said Alison Wingrove, the manager of Argentum Lodge, a dementia care home in Nailsea, near Bristol. “The reactions have been wonderful. You can see how beneficial it has been.”
Sunrise Care, which operates 25 homes, said it was allowing relatives into homes to have contact with their loved ones if they judged that it was needed to maintain their health and if test results showed the family member was not carrying the virus. A small cohort of relatives – one or two per home – have so far signed up and, like staff, are tested on a weekly basis.
The homes only admit visitors after detailed conversations about their need to socially distance outside the home, limit interactions and wear masks. A relative living with three sons in their 20s, for instance, was unlikely to be accepted because they would pose too much of an infection risk.