A day in the life of a care home

At Eastlake Care Home staff make
sure that all 52 residents have their clothes washed separately. It may
seem a trivial thing, but to Linda Grout, the home’s manager, it’s
important.

“It would be much easier to mix them all in together,
but I think about what I would like if I was here. It is all about
providing personalised care. This is their home after all.”

Her care home – part of the not-for-profit Anchor group – is situated on the outskirts of the Surrey village of Godalming.

The
day really begins at 07:30. That is when the care staff arrive and go
through what needs to be done. The residents with hospital appointments
or other engagements are prioritised.

The residents all have
different levels of need. Some have late-stage dementia, some terminal
cancer, while others have mobility issues or sight problems. Most are in
their 80s and 90s, although the youngest resident is in her mid-60s.

The mornings are always busy, as many need help washing and dressing.

Breakfast is at 09:00 and served in each of the home’s four dining areas.

Some residents sit together. Some sit alone. It all depends on their personal preference.

At some tables, the diners are in deep conversation – just like you would expect in any cafe or restaurant.

But
at others there is silence, reflecting the fact that one of the
consequences of the ageing population is the degeneration in brain
function, leaving people confused and with limited ability to
communicate. I hear one resident, when it is explained why the BBC is at
the home, ask her fellow resident: “Are we in a care home?”

One of the most popular activities in the home – and one which
evidence suggests is good for the brain – is singing. After breakfast,
the staff – one of whom plays the piano – lead the residents in a round
of old-time classics.

Well over half the residents attend. One is
Fay Dadley, 91, who moved into the home a year ago. “I love the
singing,” she says. “My favourites are the ones from the shows. But we
do a whole variety.”

She has mobility issues after a succession of
hip replacements and bowel cancer and knew of the home because her late
husband had spent two years there before he died.

She speaks highly of the home, citing the day trips, quality of the
food and friendly staff. “Whatever you want, they will do for you,” she
says. “Even if you want something in the middle of the night.”

Each
resident has a pendant with an alarm and there is one attached to their
bed, so they can call for help wherever they are in the home.

“It’s
a reassurance, but I never use mine,” says Mrs Dadley. “I read a lot in
my room, but there is always someone nearby, checking you are all
right.”

Of course, such living arrangements – in many ways the
care home resembles a modest hotel with the set dining times, communal
lounges, en-suite rooms and (almost) identical furniture – can take some
getting used to.

One resident tells me she dislikes the rules and structure. “They are always telling me what to do,” she says.

Is Eastlake typical?

More than 400,000 people live in care homes in the UK. Eastlake is undoubtedly among the better care homes.

According
to the Care Quality Commission, it meets all five essential standards.
Such compliance, while not rare, is not seen everywhere.

The
latest CQC annual report notes that there is “significant variation” in
the care home sector, with nursing homes tending to fare worse than
residential care homes. Compliance with standards hovers around the 90%
mark.

But, equally, others find it a
comfort. Widow Joan Weston 91, moved into the home six months ago. She
had been on the waiting list for several years, but had turned down two
offers of a place, to stay in her own home.

“In the end I think it
got too much for me,” she says. “I was lonely and was struggling at
home. Here, there are always people to talk to and things to do.”

But
like many people who move into residential care, it has come at a cost.
She owns her own home – a flat in a nearby village – and has a modest
amount of savings. It means she has to pay the full cost of her care
herself.

Eastlake charges those who pay for themselves – known as
self-funders – just over £1,000 a week. By comparison the local council
– Surrey – has negotiated a rate of £539 for the residents it places at
the home.

Mrs Weston says: “It is a lot of money and I do worry
about how quickly my money will run down, but I felt it was the best
option for me.”

Why do the costs vary?

It is commonplace for people who pay the full cost
of their care to pay much more than those who are placed in care homes
by their local authority. Research group Laing and Buisson shows fees
can differ by hundreds of pounds a week.

The prices of Eastlake
are proof of this. The self-funders pay over £1,000 a week, whereas the
council has negotiated a rate of £539 – although it pays that whether
the room is occupied or empty.

“It is a tricky one,” says the
home’s manager, Linda Grout. “I would say the council does not pay
enough. I have over 80 staff. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
Without self-funders, we would not be viable.”

Others
are less concerned. Jessamine Betteridge, another widow, who is 94 and
registered blind, says: “I sold my home, and my son has invested it. He
tells me I’ve got enough to live off until I’m 120 so I think I will be
OK. It doesn’t bother me really. It’s my money so why shouldn’t I use it
for my care.”

After talking to the BBC, Ms Betteridge goes off to do some cake decorating with help from the staff at the home.

The
decorating is done in one of the dining rooms after lunch has been
served. The residents are offered a choice of what they want. On the day
the BBC visited, the two main hot options were salmon and mince-beef
pie followed by apple sponge and custard. Staff also use lunch to give
residents any medication they need.

The cake decorating is just
one of a number of activities arranged by the staff – quizzes, scrabble
games, knitting and – when the weather is nice – gardening. Trips out to
day centres, the coast and local schools to see their plays are also
arranged.

The evenings tend to be a lot quieter. The residents
relax, watch some television or talk. Staff spend time with them just
chatting.

Doug Rollings, 89, is one of those who likes to sit
back and take it all in. He struggles to communicate, but has clearly
not lost his sense of humour.

When a member of staff tells him the
BBC wants to talk to him about how well cared for he is, he quips:
“I’ll tell them how bad it is.”

A day in the life of a care home

Published by Residential Forum

The Residential Forum is to promote the achievement of high standards of care and support for children and adults living in residential care and nursing homes, supported housing, residential schools and colleges, hospices and hostels. It contributes to improving the quality of service to the public. Members of the Forum are people of standing and experience drawn from the public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as some who can speak for service users and carers.

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