‘No cases, no deaths’ – The remarkable Stevenage care home that beat Covid
PUBLISHED: 17:08 20 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:38 21 July 2020
At 8pm on Thursday March 26, care home staff at Wisden Court in Stevenage left their 12 hour shift in tears. A fanfare of men, women and children had assembled in the car park, cheering and clapping for their carers.
It was, home manager Tracey Fletcher says, one of the many tears shed and hugs shared in what has been an exhausting, emotional and extraordinary few months.
More than 12 weeks later and Wisden Court has emerged as one of the success stories of the pandemic. Remarkably, the care home has not recorded a single Covid-19 case or death among its residents – apart from one positive test in an asymptomatic resident who later turned out to be negative.
The secret, Tracey says, has been an unrelenting infection control regime, implemented with total commitment. At one point, her team were prepared to live at the home full-time, if required.
“We closed our doors and tested all our residents and staff very early. All the staff came back negative – apart from person who wasn’t working at the time, so she isolated for 14 days,” Tracey says.
“From mid-March, we didn’t take in anyone from anywhere without a test, regardless of whether they were showing symptoms. And we were pushed to take some in, but we didn’t make any allowances – everyone had to be tested.
“We do hourly hand washing, and the senior staff conduct hand washing audits to ensure correct procedure. People think that a squirt of anti-bac will make it go away – it won’t. It has got to be soap and water.”
Tracey says she hasn’t had a problem with PPE supply chains, despite the horror stories which have filled national news columns in recent months. “We haven’t had any issues getting hold of PPE which has been really important. I applied to the county council for an emergency package, but the majority of our supply has come from our company Runwood Homes, who have been amazing.”
But despite Wisden Court’s success, Tracey is the first to acknowledge that not all homes have been so fortunate. Calls have already been made for an independent inquiry into the management of COVID–19 in Hertfordshire’s care sector. 500 people have died from coronavirus in care settings across the county. It has also emerged that 135 patients from Lister and Watford hospitals were discharged into care homes without being tested.
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“Some of our colleagues have not been so fortunate, so we understand that we’ve been very, very lucky – and we don’t take that lightly, believe me.”
But nor have they done it alone. “We’ve had everything,” Tracey says. “Local schools sent in letters and pictures of kids holding up rainbows. We’ve had food donations, visors, toiletries. Someone even made us knitted squares to go on the back of our necks so the masks wouldn’t rub our ears.
“We’ve also had specially made ‘pillow hands’, which the residents love. If you have dementia, it’s great to just have a hand to hold with family not allowed to visit.”
Wisden Court residents painted their own stones for Covid the Cobra which has been snaking around Stevenage. They helped transform an old garden shed into a fully operational tiki bar serving cocktails and appetisers.
And for many residents living with Alzheimer’s and not able to understand why they can’t see loved ones, Tracey organised car park greetings, so residents could see familiar faces from a distance.
“I don’t know how the families have done it,” Tracey says. “I wouldn’t have been able to keep away from my Mum. But they fell in line with our restrictions and were absolutely incredible.”
But ultimately, at the core of Wisden Court’s pandemic success has surely been their extraordinary, indefatigable staff.
“We have supported each other through an incredibly emotional time. Obviously, we’ve all got our own families at home, but they sacrificed so much to keep our residents safe. We spend more time here that we do in our own homes.
“Not one staff member has refused to come in. Even after schools shut down, every day they came in. We even talked about staying full time, and they all would have stayed.”
And so, as Tracey’s staff arrive every day, for 12 hour shifts, washing hands on the hour, every hour, decked out in PPE all day, it is clear the pandemic has shed light on some remarkable people.
“We’re a very close team, and I know that we wouldn’t be able to do it without each other,” Tracey says. Which is fortunate, because we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
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