Care home's last-ditch fight for survival after Covid outbreak

At Clarence House care home in Mundesley

At Clarence House care home in Mundesley are, from left, regional manager Jenny Daynes, manager Elle Johnston and Cephas Care director for adult and community services Rachael Robertson. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

The coronavirus pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on the elderly care sector. Reporter STUART ANDERSON visited a north Norfolk care home struggling to ensure its future. 

Barely a week after Elle Johnston took over as manager at Clarence House in Mundesley, the first Covid test completed by a staff member came back positive. 

Testing of all of the clifftop care home’s residents followed and seven more cases were found. 

Mrs Johnston said: “We followed the procedure of doing [testing] for seven days on all staff and residents - there wasn’t a single day that we didn’t get a positive.

"At one point we were running on our contingency plan of just agency staff at night because we didn’t have any night workers able to come in.”

Clarence House care home in  Sea View Road, Mundesley. 

Clarence House care home in Sea View Road, Mundesley. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

Over the following eight weeks all but six residents and five staff members contracted Covid.
The outbreak claimed the life of one resident, a woman in her 90s, and several others are still living with the effects of long Covid. 

Mrs Johnston said the death came a "huge shock".

She said: “She was very independent, she didn’t need a lot of help during the day. She contracted Covid and within five days she passed away.

"Everybody was really upset and shocked by that because she was a real character around the home.”

The outbreak was a baptism of fire for Mrs Johnston, who stepped up from a role as manager at a centre which was already in desperate straits.

At Clarence House care home in Mundesley are, from left,

At Clarence House care home in Mundesley are, from left, regional manager Jenny Daynes, Cephas Care director for adult and community services Rachael Robertson, and manager Elle Johnston. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

Clarence House, located in a former Victorian hotel, was put into special measures by health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), in November last year, and inspectors were dissatisfied with its progress when they returned in March

Unless CQC inspectors are convinced it is improving the next time they visit the care home faces closure, which Mrs Johnston said they were desperate to avoid. 

She said: “We’re all trying to think positive and keep positive. 

“It’s good that the staff can see the changes and they put that extra effort in to keep things going and keep the new practices going and doing what’s expected of them.

"They know that they could possibly face losing their jobs. We’ve got staff who have been here a long time and they’re really passionate about what they do.

"None of them want to see Clarence House close. They don’t want to see the residents need to move.”

Inside one of the rooms for private residents at Clarence House care home in Mundesley. 

Inside one of the rooms for private residents at Clarence House care home in Mundesley. - Credit: Stuart Anderson

Rachael Robertson, director for adult and community services at Cephas Care, which owns Clarence House, said the sector as a whole had been under huge strain due to the pandemic. 

She said: “It has been a really difficult time. With the added pressures of Covid and the time constraints - I don’t think everything has been fully considered. The pressure on managers during this time has been really hard.”

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The care home currently has 32 staff. There are 18 residents, all of whom are over 60, and including one 100-year-old and a 102-year-old. 

In November Clarence House was given an Inadequate rating after concerns were raised over staffing levels, medicine errors and safeguarding, and the CQC was unsatisfied with the changes that had been made at the care home over the following few months. 

The CQC went one step further in June, imposing a number of conditions including the requirement to submit monthly reports on its progress.

Norfolk County Council has also prevented the care home from accepting new residents through the social care system, although it can still accept private residents. 

Mrs Johnston said they believed they were now on the right track to turn around the negative ratings, which centred around the safety and leadership of the service. 

She said: “We’ve done a lot around governance and auditing. We’ve put in place extra audits, for example a weight loss tracker so we can take action if we notice a resident is losing weight regularly.

“We’ve also had a big clear out. We’re currently on our fifth skip."

Mrs Robertson added: “A lot of work has been done around the house in terms of redecoration, replacement of the carpets, and the concerns that were brought up around some of the safety aspects.

"They mentioned some of the doors [or sluice or storage rooms] were left unlocked. They now have contact alarms with sounds, so it’s a reminder to close and lock the door.”

The CQC is due to undertake its next inspection in the coming months.