A bustling party atmosphere, ladies in their best dresses, the bar man in a flat cap serving the guests steak and ale pie with cheesecake to follow, fun and laughter in the air...a night at the Bethany Arms.
Probably not what you would have pictured of a care home during a national lockdown in the middle of a global pandemic. The residents' outing was cancelled, but the staff at Bethany House didn't let it defeat them — they didn't run to their televisions and say the fun could wait until next year. The dining room was transformed into a gastro pub, the carers became partygoers and the maintenance officer the bar man. The effort and care put in was astounding. Everyone agreed it was a night to remember.
I have worked in care home management for nine years now and during that time I have found myself amazed and humbled time and again by the way carers go above and beyond for the people under their care. Today's NHS, Social Care and Frontline Workers' Day is timely and very much needed, both to thank those on the frontline during the pandemic and remember those who lost their lives to Covid-19.
As a growing number of our population move into their later years, those making their home with us have had increasing levels of dependency — needs that in years gone by would have characterised a nursing home rather than a care home. In fact, I am often asked by friends and family, 'So what do you do when residents get sick? Do you send them to a nursing home or a hospital?'. For the most part the answer is 'No'. Through the skill, love and dedication of the highly trained care staff, we are able to meet the needs of our residents and allow them to have a home with us right until the end of their lives.
The care workers who throw a fantastic party are the very same workers who are trained to administer medication for residents, with an in-depth understanding of their medical needs to give the correct dosage and combinations. Our Christian faith underpins everything we do at Pilgrims' Friend Society and many of our carers share in that. As I see the way they care, it is such a beautiful reflection of the love and value God has for each of the individuals under our care. They see the whole person; their emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
It has been a tough year for all of us. At Bethany House, run by Pilgrims' Friend Society, we are a family and I have seen the carers struggle with imposing restrictions on the residents that go against their community-oriented nature. With the emotional stress and additional pressure, I have often felt it has only been God's strength that has kept us going. Diane for example, who has just passed her 30th anniversary of working for Pilgrim's Friends Society as a carer on the night shift, reflected on the heartbreak of an elderly husband and wife prevented from seeing one another during lockdowns because they were in different areas of the care home.
This year has also highlighted to so many the important and expert role that carers play. We have seen this on a national level in the news, and I have the privilege of witnessing it every day in our homes.
I was recently reminded of how important this role is to residents and their families and the real trust they put in our staff. I was standing in the duty room looking out over the courtyard and saw the son of a lady in our home who was receiving end of life care. He was standing outside her window, unable to go in due to the restrictions. As I looked on I noticed that he had tears in his eyes. Wanting to provide any comfort I could at a distance, I went out to speak to him. But, as I approached, he turned to tell me that he was fine — he wasn't crying out of sadness, but because he was overwhelmed by the kindness of the care staff. They weren't tears of grief; they were tears of gratitude.
To be kind is the heart of what it is to be a carer. Thinking back to years ago, walking into the first care home I worked at with Pilgrims' Friend Society, I remember having an overwhelming sense of the deep care and loving respect that was shown to the residents. As Diane put it, simply and beautifully, you care because you care.
In Psalm 139:16 we read 'all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.' It is a verse that is precious to me because it encapsulates the heart of our carers – from the first day someone joins our home to their last, they are valued. Their days are precious to God, so they are precious to us.
Despite the year we have had I'm hopeful for the future. More than hopeful, I'm excited. I'm hopeful that days like today will see carers receiving the recognition they deserve and that they are valued for the incredible qualities and skills they posess. I'm excited because the skill and kindness of our care staff allows our homes at Pilgrims' Friend Society not only to effectively and safely deliver care, but to lead the way in innovating new ways of providing relationship-and-community-centred care, care that reflects God's design and gives dignity to each person created in his image. 2021 promises new and exciting things, but all of it rests on the bedrock of our amazing care staff.
Emma Hughes, came to Pilgrims' Friend Society from a nursing background that included almost 10 years as a Senior Sister at Burrswood, the famous Christian hospital in Tunbridge Wells. In 2011, attracted by the strong spiritual values of Pilgrims' Friend Society, she joined as Nurse Manager of Milward House, in Tunbridge Wells. After eighteen months she moved to Devon to be the Registered Care Manager of Bethany Christian Home in Plymouth. Now after almost eight years there, Emma assumes the same position at Middlefields House, expected to open in summer 2021. To find out more about Pilgrims' Friend Society go to pilgrimsfriend.org.uk