April 2021: Shift leading during lockdown – an interview with Stevie Hall

Beaumont House stands less than half a mile from the beach in Walton-on-the-Naze and is home to more than 40 local people with a wide variety of care needs. We caught up with Stevie Hall, one of our Shift Leader carers, to find out about life before, during and after lockdown.

When did you first start at Beaumont House and what attracted you to work here?

I’ve officially been here since June 2019, but I actually began working at Beaumont House in the January as an agency carer. I’d been with the agency only for about six or seven months. Unfortunately, my nan was end-of-life, and I was working in a care home at the time. I kept having to cancel shifts to look after her, or if she was rushed to hospital, so it made sense to start working for an agency so I could pick and choose when I worked, so I could spend time looking after her. My nan passed away in early February 2019, and I applied for a permanent position at Beaumont House at the end of the same month.

I really liked the team I was working with and Beaumont House is only ten minutes down the road from home! It felt like it was mean to be. I had my interview in March and then began a 13-week placement as part of the transfer process to One Housing.

How was your work at Beaumont House different to your previous experience?

I’ve been in the care sector for 13 or 14 years now, working in all sorts of environments: mental health, learning disabilities, day centres and residential and, later in care homes, dementia care. But I’d never worked in assisted living before. Coming from care homes where you had a very limited amount of time to see each resident and look after their needs, here it immediately felt more relaxed. You might get 10 minutes with a resident in a care home, but here it’s like domiciliary care. Each customer has their core times, so they might be allocated an entire hour. So, you don’t have to rush and you can talk properly – you get to know each customer much better, I feel, because it’s more personal rather than having to operate to this rapid timetable.

Is there a time of day you particularly enjoy?

The shifts patterns here are 7am-3pm, 2:30-10:30pm, or a split shift, which really helps for team members with children. I enjoy the morning shift the most – although keeping energy levels at their highest can be a bit of a challenge if I’ve had a late shift the day before! We’re lucky here that we have two people who remain on site overnight for emergencies, so we don’t generally have to include night shifts in our rotas, unless it’s for holiday cover. And they’re great, making sure we have all our paperwork ready for the morning, so we can get straight on with visiting customers.

At some previous workplaces, I’ve also experienced a strange rivalry between different shift groups. There’s none of that here – we’re all part of a team and it’s the best I’ve ever worked in.

What does a typical shift look like?

We have a wide range of care needs among our 40-odd residents, some of which live as couples. We have some who require two carers, or hoisting, but once the initial personal care has taken place they’re really independent. So, a morning shift involves going round to get people up, get their breakfast, give medication, provide any personal care that’s needed. Some people are more mobile than others, so typically we also help people into wheelchairs and take them to and from activities or outside into the garden, which is lovely. It’s such a relief to have warmer weather coming so everyone can spend time outside again.

The customers have a residents’ activities committee and organise their own regular events, like coffee mornings, knit-and-natter on a Tuesday, film nights with popcorn and snacks, Friday bingo. In the summer before lockdown, they organised a massive BBQ in the garden, inviting their families, and even those of us who weren’t working went in. It says a lot when you go into work when you’re not scheduled to!

How have things changed during lockdown?

Before Covid, when there were no restrictions, our customers could come and go as they please, socialise with each other and with their families and friends, go out for the day… We had to shut the restaurant and the communal areas to reduce risks and visiting was cancelled. That’s so difficult for people who are used to being able to sit, play games, chat and eat together. Suddenly they’re pretty much confined to their flats.

So, my manager put in place extra support, in 15 and 30-minute slots, where we go around in between the usual call times, to make a cup of tea and have a chat. Just so there’s some social interaction still going on. Because some customers have barely left their flat since the start of lockdown last March. That’s crazy. It’s been a struggle, but I think the extra support has helped everyone thrive. We’re desperate for everyone to get to see their families, though, and even just eat together in the dining room again!

Thankfully, we can now have residents meet up in groups of six, so we’re looking at organising activities in the garden, for instance. All of our customers have had their first vaccines and most have received or are scheduled to get their second jab soon.

We do PCN tests every Tuesday, and test the residents once a month. We’ve each got lateral flow tests, to self-test twice a week. Residents can now have a single visitor again, so we’re carrying out all the Covid testing for visitors before they can enter the premises.

As a shift leader, what extra responsibilities do you have?

I manage the team on shift, which means it’s me they come to if there’s a problem or queries that need answering. We use the Tunstall system linked up to pull cords in the flats and portable alarms either as pendants or wrist bands. I carry what we call the Care One phone; so any calls from a customer comes straight to me. The system is also connected to the front door, so I screen any new arrivals. I also carry a mobile which takes any incoming calls from outside agencies, like district nurses and GPs. I’m also the medication champion, which is something I actually started doing in my previous job and suggested we introduce here. I sign in the meds every month, check everyone has sufficient supplies, take care of stock levels and ordering for PRN (pro re nata / as needed) medication, like creams, paracetamol and so on.

Is there much need for specialist training?

We’ve actually got really supportive management, who are always checking whether there are any areas we feel we need more training in. There are some customers with quite specialist needs, for instance one customer living with Parkinson’s, so our care team members are always keen to take on training which helps them deliver a better standard of care. We also have an incontinence champion, dementia champion, an equality and diversity champion; and people have had extra training just to explore taking on different responsibilities. Of course, we have our annual update training, but we’ve also had extra training in things like detailed record-keeping for example.

We’ve done quite a lot of recruitment recently and some of the new starters have never worked in care before. As well as formal training, we’ve introduced a buddy system, to make sure less experienced staff always have someone who can show them the ins and outs of everything. They’ve taken to it like a duck to water, I have to say.

Any final thoughts, Stevie?

Just that I’m really lucky with the residents who live here. They’re invested in us as much as we’re invested in them; you get to build real relationships. I love where I work and I absolutely adore the team I work with!