Care homes ‘left with empty rooms’ as families avoid them

Care homes across Devon are facing increasing numbers of empty rooms as families are reluctant to place relatives within them.

Daniel Clark 

Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, cabinet member for Adult Social Care, said at Thursday’s full council meeting there have not been any unplanned care home closures across Devon as a result of the pandemic, but concerns have been raised nationally around this potential.

He said that to support care homes in Devon, a number of elements have been put in place, including weekly monitoring via the care homes capacity tracker, voids being funded with PPE costs and additional staff costs covered, and funding to support client isolation costs for 14 days post placement.

Cllr Leadbetter confirmed that the policy across Devon for hospital discharges into care homes was that testing takes place, and the result is known prior to discharge, with care homes to receive funding to be able to put in place arrangement to support 14 days of isolation within care homes for new placements, if needed.

But we added: “What we are seeing in Devon is a rising numbers of voids as individuals and families are reluctant to place them into care homes.”

He had been asked to report by Cllr Martin Shaw on the Covid situation, especially outbreaks in care homes, and the measures taken, and in his report, Cllr Leadbetter said that Devon is one of the areas of the country so far least impacted by COVID-19 related cases and fatalities.

“Even relative to its low level of community-based transmission of COVID-19, Devon has experienced significantly fewer outbreaks and fatalities in its care homes than is typical elsewhere,” he added.

He continued: “National testing challenges continue, but work locally is taking place to support care homes, and the national testing strategy is that all care home staff (including bank and agency staff), including those without symptoms, should be tested every week.

“We are taking part in a Department of Health and Social Care COVID-19 testing pilot within Extra Care Housing (ECH) and Supported Living (SL) to inform future national testing requirements and testing strategy for people living in ECH and SL, of which there are 324 properties in Devon.

“People living in these properties, their homes, have a range of needs including mental health needs, physical disability needs, learning disability or autism needs. They also have a greater level of independence than people in care homes and subsequently can play a more active role in the community and therefore have different infection risks to manage, this can be challenging for those who have more risky behaviours and for the staff that support them.”

Cllr Leadbetter added: “To support care homes in Devon we have put a number of elements in place. These include weekly monitoring via the care homes capacity tracker enable is to have oversight of risks to business continuity and viability, and for those identified with 15 per cent voids to receive weekly phone calls providing the opportunity for care homes to raise concerns including viability concerns.

“There has been £3.9m additional and targeted funding to care homes, a £10.5m Infection Control Fund for Devon of £950 per bed and a second additional payment from unallocated funds, and funding to support client isolation costs for 14 days post placement.

“It is policy across Devon that testing takes place, and the result is known prior to discharge. Care homes receive funding to be able to put in place arrangement to support 14 days of isolation within care homes for new placements.”

Earlier this year, he Devon STP health and care organisations worked jointly in the recruitment, training and deployment of staff, which result in 209 extra people, who were employed in front-line healthcare assistant roles across the Devon STP health and care organisations

The majority were recruited into permanent roles, with 74 people employed in permanent care worker roles with adult social care providers, including 49 in domiciliary care and 25 in residential care in Devon County Council’s geographical area, with 17 people were employed on a temporary basis in Social Care Reablement and the Durrant Care Hotel, via Temp Solutions.

A new STP Proud to Care campaign in Autumn/Winter 2020 will attract new people to important health and care vacancies in Devon. The aim is to support winter pressures, to support recruitment in anticipation of a local or national resurgence of COVID-19, to fill vacant posts, to support hospital discharge and encourage people to remain independent at home, where possible, and residential homes, and to benefit from government’s Plan for Jobs including the Kickstart Scheme, apprenticeships (including nursing apprenticeships) and traineeships at a time of high unemployment.

Providing infection control guidance is followed, care homes can continue with their own visiting policies.

But Cllr Leadbetter added: “However, this situation is subject to an ongoing dynamic risk assessment and may change in the future, at which point care settings will be notified. Our priority is to ensure that everyone is as safe as possible, should we see an increase in local coronavirus cases.”