How Saint Michael’s Hospice has risen to COVID-19 Challenges

THROUGHOUT COVID-19, Harrogate-based Hospice care charity Saint Michael’s has been working tirelessly to adapt services, continuing to support local families living with terminal illness and bereavement, using new technology and different ways of working, to ensure patients and families continue to receive the best possible care.

HOME service has been in particular demand, with many people worried about coming to a hospice or hospital, where close family faced visiting. As well as the visits from the team, patients and families are receiving daily welfare phone calls.

HOME care service manager, Alex Thomas, shares some of the experiences she and her team have been dealing with over the past months.

“People caring for a person dying at home are really struggling without the usual extended support from family and of course, feeling isolated themselves.

“Patients are missing out on their usual quality of life. They are missing the little bits of joy in the day, such as seeing their grandchildren or even being able to go out with their carer. We’re trying to fill that gap. Our team are trying to keep peoples spirits up and relieving some of the pressures on carers. We’ll sit with a patient so they can go and get some fresh air – just to sit in a sunny garden for while, or take their dog for a walk.

Morale among our team is amazing – mainly because of the response and support they are receiving from the community. They’ve had applause from neighbours as they walk up to a house. One man stopped his van, thrust a £10 donation to the hospice in the nurse’s hand and called her an angel before driving off.

“I’m incredibly proud of every member of the team – they are going above and beyond their normal remit. There’s a real sense of camaraderie between patients, staff and families and our allied health professionals.  We’re all working together.”

Two heath care assistants, Lorraine Lumley and Julia Harrison, working for our HOME service, share what it has been like caring for people living with a terminal illness during lockdown.

Julie: “I put my mask, gloves, goggles, apron and gloves before I enter a house; This is so alien to the end of life care we are used to giving, but we are still managing to create those important relationships and offer comfort.

“The social distancing measures, while necessary, sometimes felt really difficult; it has been heart-breaking to see some relatives waving final goodbyes through windows. It’s hard. But we have a fantastic team and we are all so supportive of each other and feel well supported by the organisation,”

Lorraine added: “We’re doing the job to the highest standard of care at all times, but we’re used to being pretty tactile and now when someone is crying we can’t offer a hug or put a reassuring hand on theirs – so instead we reassure with words.

“Having to wear PPE can be unsettling for patients and carers. Not seeing our faces also impacts on people who may have hearing difficulties, and at the end of life it’s really important to be able to communicate with everyone with total clarity, so people understand what is going on.  We talk to patients about what is happening and why, even if they are seemingly unconscious.”

 

Saint Michael’s cares for people living with any terminal illness and throughout COVID-19, our Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Clinical Nurse Specialist Kate Adams has been busy finding innovative new ways to support patients and their families – including adding technology to her toolkit.

Motor Neurone Disease is a progressive, terminal condition that affects the brain and nerves, and Kate (pictured) is there to support people living with this illness and their families to lessen the impact on day-to-day life.

While many patients were happy initially to receive telephone support, Kate found not being able to see people and assess them in ‘person’ challenging. Through use of technology, using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, the service has been able to keep in touch with patients and their families. However, not all patients are able to communicate in this way. So for some people, a COVID-19 safe socially-distanced chat in a garden, with the use of appropriate PPE, has been an option.

Saint Michael’s also provides a special MND telephone support line, provided by the HOME Service, to answer general concerns and queries from patients about their condition, equipment and to arrange support from Kate.

 

At the hospice’s inpatient unit at Crimple House, Head of inpatient Services Steve Lawman describes how day to day life has been affected for both patients, families and the care team.

Steve said: “Our staff have been incredible since lockdown started. They have all shown huge flexibility and responsiveness. In the past 6 months, we’ve had to adapt rapidly to new ways of working, with new building layouts and zones in the hospice building and even dealing with full scrubs and PPE when it was really hot. Everyone has been really supportive to each other.

“Hospice care never stops. Even though many of the IPU staff have been dealing with challenges at work and at home because of COVID-19, everyone worked together to ensure that we were able to continue providing the highest standards of care at a really challenging time. This extends to our wider team; our housekeeping team, catering team, facilities, volunteers and Saint Michael’s Leadership Team all pulled together, which was fantastic.

“We created new patient and family liaison roles to ensure patients and their families were supported at all times. When visiting was restricted, this team kept in touch with carers and families every day, by phone, by zoom, or face time, keeping them updated.

“We’ve kept this practice up now as it’s proved really helpful for families and provides even better communication.

“Caring during a pandemic has improved our resilience– after six months, we know we have learned new skills and knowledge, so if there is a potential second wave, we know we have done it once and can do it again.

“We also want to thank our community for the amazing way we have been supported over the past six months. From people turning up with home-made goodies for the nursing team, to all the help we had in sourcing PPE in the early days, it has all made such a difference.

As carers, who support our local community, we really felt that care was reciprocated by our community when we needed it and it meant the world to us.”

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