When I first started writing this blog, I told you all how I was a carer working with vulnerable adults suffering from dementia and various other life changing illnesses.
It was a job I loved and adored, nothing please me more than knowing I’d made a difference to one persons life by simply holding their hand or telling them how everything was going to be ok. I’d come home from work with a sense of great pride and always vowed never to do anything else with my life.
But that was the problem. I became lost. I forgot how to be anything else other than a carer, I put everything at work before everything at home. I spent more hours working and less hours being a Mum and a partner, my health deteriorated quickly and my state of mind? Well, I swear I was on the verge of a breakdown. So, I had to sit down with Paul and make a choice for my own sanity- continue to work myself into the ground or put my family first. Naturally, my family come first. It wasn’t a decision I found easy, but the fact is, I have always been proud to be a good carer, someone who wasn’t a yes man and wouldn’t please management over residents needs. Someone who would go the extra mile and never be afraid to be a voice for someone else who needed it. That’s my always enough. For every good carer, there is a bad carer. Bad carers always seem to come out smelling of roses whilst the good carers fade into the shadows unnoticed. It’s sad but it’s true.
I get asked for advice so often about care work, by people who do the job or are thinking of entering the profession. I tell them the same every time, be a carer if you are not afraid to be heard, if you are strong but with a good heart. Be a carer if you know the real value of kindness and what it can do to make a persons life all the better. But also, I get asked what to look for when choosing a care home for a loved one. Trust me when I say this, if I could paint a cross on all three care homes I’ve worked in as a warning not to enter, I’d do it. I’d string the management up by the scruff off their necks and have them pelted believe me I would. It’s all too often that carers end up with a bad reputation and in reality, it’s the fault of management (or senior management in the first care home I’ve ever worked at). Carers that wear invisible halos will report issues but it will be swept under the carpet, they will speak up but be beaten down into silence. Then, when the shit hits the fan, it’s the management who hang them out to dry.
So, for those who ask what to look for, I hope these tips help you. And most importantly, I hope they help your loved ones.
1- Do your research. Visit as many homes as you need to. Take notes along the way, speak to residents and families that are visiting and ask them questions. NEVER book a time to visit, always turn up announced. By turning up by appointment, everything that needs to be hidden or brushed over will be just so and they will be ready with false smiles and promises of top quality care. Check out the homes website, CQC reports, social services and so on. Gather your information carefully and whittle down your choices to three homes.
2- Viewing. Once you have your three homes selected, pick three random times of the day to visit. I advise visiting at early breakfast time, between lunch and dinner and around supper time. These are important times during the day and will help you see how calm and organised a home can be. If you are refused a random visit. Don’t bother going back. When you visit, always ask to see the empty rooms. Check the beds, mattress, storage, bathroom facilities and most importantly, test the buzzer system. Ring the buzzer and time how fast it takes a carer to answer, bear in mind, that could be your family needing help as a matter of life or death. If it takes longer than two minutes, it’s an indication the home is understaffed and your family is likely to not receive the correct care because staff just cannot work miracles.
3- Ask questions. When you visit, ask questions such as staff to resident ratio, shift patterns of staff, can you decorate or bring furniture, toileting times, where is medication stored, accident and incident procedures, in the event of fire where is allocated safe place for family to go i.e. A village hall? Ask how daily events are recorded, how many beds are empty (and more than five empty beds, ask yourself why?) how is laundry done, is it a 24/7 visiting policy, what qualifications do staff have, are the trained in your families needs i.e. Diabetes, epilepsy, dementia. Ask what are the meal times- if there is longer than a 3 hour gap between breakfast and a tea round and then another 4 hours to lunch, that’s not enough, especially ask what time is tea and is there a hot supper option? Long periods of time before meals isn’t suitable.
4-Funding. We all know the cost of care homes are a rip off, I firmly believe nobody should pay for residential care. But, check out the costs, based on what you have seen, do you think it’s worth the money? A fancy home may not be all it’s cracked up to be, make sure you’re paying for the service not the fancy arsed curtains in the lounge.
5- Speak to staff, ask them what being a carer means to them, do they enjoy the job? Suss out if they are genuine. Always watch them, do they seem happy? How do they act with residents and each other? Does it look like they work as a team or communicate with each other?
6- Involve your family. If you are trusting a care home to look after your loved one, give your loved one choice. Take them to view the home and gauge a reaction. Involve the with as much as possible. Too often, families make the choices and it’s the carers who then take the wrath because they are pacifying your Aunt who didn’t want to be there in the first place.
7- Are the residents treated with dignity and respect? If staff are having a conversation about their private life over a residents head, that’s not acceptable. If staff are discussing residents within ear shot, that’s not acceptable. Are they knocking on doors before entering? Are they offering choices?
8-Don’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions to management. Don’t be afraid to challenge them. And whilst your at it, if you don’t feel management are interested or approachable, don’t go near the home again. These people are responsible for your family, they’re a human being not a wage packet.
9- Before anything, create an advance care plan with your loved one, it’s a tough subject but ask them what they want to do if they become ill, where do they want to spend their last days? What do they want to happe should they lose capacity? Do you make photo books for them so they can look back at them forexample? Is your Dad ok with female carers washing him? How do they want their meals? In their room or with other people in a dining area? It’s important to get all the little things on paper and ensure the care home sticks to these choices, if they don’t, they’ve abused your trust and your loved ones right to live life they way they wish.
10- Ask what the end of life procedure is. Will a carer be with your loved one at all times or left alone. Some homes leave a resident in bed unnoticed, other homes operate a system so carers sit with your loved one at all times so they are never alone or at least until family can be present.
I really hope some of these things help. So many people feel guilty for using a care service, but you mustn’t, you have to do what’s best for all involved. For so many people, it’s the only way they can be a son or daughter again and not a carer. It’s easy to get frustrated with your family member for the smallest thing, but they can’t help it and you can’t help getting frustrated, without the correct knowledge and training, you can only do so much.