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EXPERT COLUMN: Is your home care agency prepared for a second wave?

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With lockdown restrictions easing across the UK, the likelihood of a second wave has been widely debated. But are home care agencies prepared?

Whatever happens, it’s never been more important for providers to step up their protocols, monitoring, guidance and infection control strategies, says Emma-Lee Curtis, content manager at Birdie.

Here, she discusses how home care agencies can go about doing this, so they can be prepared for all outcomes.

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Get set for the return of CQC inspections

Routine CQC inspections have been on hold since March 16, with full attention been given to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. But, with restrictions easing, inspectors are scheduling checks on ‘higher-risk’ services over the summer, and a ‘managed return’ to inspection of lower-risk services is planned over the autumn.

This means that you’ll need to get your business inspection-ready, and it’s likely your inspector will want to see how you’ve responded, and still are responding, to the crisis. ‍

Use this time to create detailed reports

Whether you cared for a person with COVID-19 or not, now is the time to report on everything you learned.

Do an after-action report where you list out everything that went well and everything that didn’t. This is so you don’t lose sight of everything that has been happening and you can make necessary changes to prepare for a winter surge.

Consider points like:

  • How/where did you document of your policy and protocols
  • How you communicated with staff and family
  • If there was an outbreak, what measures did you put in place? What went well? What didn’t?
  • If an outbreak happened today, what would you do differently?
  • How was your PPE stock at the peak – and what’s it like now?
  • Document any communication from families and how you responded to these
  • If possible, reach out to the people you care for and their families and ask them how they think you performed, and where you could improve. 
  • Share this report with families and staff so they can see the actions you took and know what you’ll do if there is a second wave.

Implement a digital system

If you don’t already use a digital system to monitor your care, now is the time to shop around and look for one that best suits your needs.
Paper care logs and records make it difficult for staff to stay safe, and give you less visibility over your care.

Recording your care digitally means your office staff can have access whenever, wherever, allowing for remote working. Plus, with everything stored online, it’s easy to access information when you need it – to share with healthcare bodies and local authorities.

Update your policies and plans

At the beginning of the crisis, many home care providers we spoke to felt unprepared – and on top of an already stressful time found themselves having to create policies and procedures to deal with the crisis. If that was you, learn lessons from the past and update and create any policies that are outstanding now. 

  • Review the latest guidance and update policies accordingly
  • Consider where they are stored so everyone always has access
  • Set a recurring future date to review policies and mark that date clearly on each one
  • Review contact details for your clients and their families to make sure you’re up to date

Review (or create) your emergency staffing plan

Recruitment and staffing was the main concern for almost all of our partner agencies during COVID-19. We spoke to Beverly Simms-Manley from Medacs Healthcare when the crisis hit, and she shared with us her emergency staffing plan. It included:

  • A contingency plan that provides security to service users and families that allowed for with 144 care workers not working (of 718). 
  • Speaking to family members to arrange alternative support
  • RAG ratings of their service users to determine priority

“Staffing needs to be part of your pandemic plan, and your pandemic plan should be an ongoing living document that you continue to keep updated so that you aren’t caught off-guard when a pandemic actually hits,” Hofmann, ANAAC.

Assess your PPE stock levels

PPE is a huge concern for care industries, and whilst there have been significant efforts to increase the amount available, now is a good time to monitor and report on your levels and useage. Consider:

  • How much PPE were you using at the peak of the pandemic
  • How much are you using now?
  • What is the cost for this?
  • Do you have a dedicated list of suppliers you can reach out to if you need more?
  • Can you start to create a stockpile without affecting your current levels? If not, can you order more so you have some in stock?

If you’re not sure how much stock you get through, use the CDC PPE Burn Rate tool, here. 

Keep on top of best practices and hygiene 

Now is not the time to get complacent with hand hygiene and PPE practice. The threat levels may indeed be lowering, but if you loosen up on behaviours now, you staff will have to re-learn the practices they put in place at the peak of the crisis, if a second wave hits.

Consider bringing your staff into the office on a regular basis to train them and re-instill best practices. 

You should also share these best practices with your clients so they are geared up to help reduce risk and protect themselves.

Look after your staff mental health

The effect of COVID-19 has been difficult for everyone, but your staff who are out there on the frontline everyday have had an exceptional challenge on their shoulders. Just because things look to be getting easier, your staff still need your support. 

Trudie Fell from BelleVie Care told us at the height of the pandemic:‍ “On Slack, we also have a channel called ‘check-in’, where people can talk about how they’re feeling and get some support and empathy from their colleagues and that’s proved really valuable.”‍

If you’ve implemented similar channels, be sure not to let them drop now. 

Ask questions daily, check in with your staff and put in place channels that allow them to reach out.

Whilst we’re all hoping a second wave won’t happen, it’s important to be in control and ensure you have the right procedures in place in case of a second, potentially bigger outbreak. 

If you need help with going digital, you can reach out to our team who would be happy to talk you through the options.

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke

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