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Skype and Google Earth - how care homes are keeping older people connected

PUBLISHED: 15:58 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:08 19 March 2020

Lily Barnes, a resident at Heron Lodge care home in Wroxham, explores Hevingham using Google Earth Picture: Kingsley Healthcare

Lily Barnes, a resident at Heron Lodge care home in Wroxham, explores Hevingham using Google Earth Picture: Kingsley Healthcare

Kingsley Healthcare

Care homes have restricted visits and are turning to video calling and other uses of technology to help avoid social isolation for their vulnerable residents, in response to government guidelines limiting social interaction amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the over-70s considered one of the groups which are vulnerable to the virus, relatives and friends are having to think carefully about unnecessary physical contact and social interaction.

Twelve weeks of isolation for the most vulnerable is expected to come into force in the coming weeks, to cover the peak of the outbreak.

Kingsley Healthcare, which manages 15 care homes in Norfolk and Suffolk, is among the operators to issue reassurance to residents and their families.

Chief executive Daya Thayan said: “As advised by the government, and as we move to the next phase of our plans to support our residents and staff, we are asking for your help and support as we are requesting that we have no visitors, except healthcare professionals.

Daya Thayan, founder and chief executive, of Kingsley Healthcare Group.

 Picture: James BassDaya Thayan, founder and chief executive, of Kingsley Healthcare Group. Picture: James Bass

“This is to ensure that we keep you and your loved ones as safe as possible. Where there are exceptional circumstances, we may permit a controlled visit, provided that it has been pre-arranged with the home manager and we can ensure that the risks are fully mitigated.

“We will still ensure that vital medical visits are made, ensuring that they wash their hands on entering the home and we will be asking all visitors to ensure they have no symptoms.

“All our homes are set up for Skype calling to enable you to keep in touch and we are confident that all our staff teams will do all they can to ensure that life in our homes remains as comfortable and sociable as possible.”

MORE: Sainsbury’s announces changes to help older people and vulnerable amid panic buying

Barchester runs six care homes in Norfolk, including The Warren in Sprowston, Hethersett Hall and Ritson Lodge in Hopton-on-Sea, and has also asked for no visits which have not been pre-arranged, except for healthcare professionals.

A spokesperson said: “This is to ensure that we keep you and your loved ones as safe as possible as we know that this virus is very contagious.”

They continued: “All of our homes and hospitals have now been set up for Skype calling to enable you to keep in touch and we are confident that our staff will do all they can to ensure that life in our services remains as comfortable and sociable as possible as we support them with delivering interactive activities.

“We understand that this is a worrying time for you, and we want to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our residents, patients and staff are as safe as possible, and we are staying close to the advice from public health authorities.”

Up in north Norfolk, Karen Powley, registered manager of The Mount Residential Home in Aylsham, said getting food and supplies to cater for its 21 residents was proving difficult.

She said: “We went to Tesco early doors yesterday, and members of the public tutted and shook their heads because we had trolleys of stuff. We had to explain to them that we were from a care home and we have 21 vulnerable people to feed.”

Ms Powley said visitors had been stopped from coming in since Monday, and residents were advised not to go out unless they needed to, but allow members of staff to run errands for them.

Andy Soobrayen, manager at Faldonside Lodge care home in Cliff Avenue in Cromer, said: “It’s all a matter of reducing footfall and keeping residents as safe as possible. We have been closed down to all visitors since Monday. All visitors came in over the last week to see their loved ones. We have also set up Skypes so people can keep in touch. And we have set up a clinical area, which, if we have a crisis, we are ready to use. We are trying to build up good spirits. But it can be a pain in trying to get supplies from local supermarkets, if they have put restrictions on certain items.”

A trip down memory lane

Staff at Heron Lodge care home in Wroxham have been using modern technology to combat isolation amid coronavirus restrictions for the over-70s.

The home’s wellbeing co-ordinator, Karen Spinks, had been hoping to take resident Lily Barnes, 101, back to her childhood village of Hevingham for a trip down memory lane.

However, with that trip not possible amid the current government health advice to avoid all unnecessary travel and social interaction, they used Google Earth to take a virtual tour online instead.

Through a little bit of creative thinking, this allowed Mrs Barnes to see her childhood home, the primary school she attended and even the church in which she was married.

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