Portsmouth community rallies to show how much it cares for our carers this Christmas

IT HAS been a challenging year for everyone due the pandemic but perhaps those who have felt the Covid impact most are the unsung heroes working in our care homes.
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While NHS staff have quite rightly received plaudits for the work they’ve done caring for patients on the Covid front-line, care homes and the dedicated teams who look after the city’s most vulnerable demographic have often gone under the radar – particularly in light of caring for residents with Covid often without the same level of protective equipment.

Despite low levels of pay and obvious risks to their own health it’s a situation which our city’s selfless carers have faced head on.

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Andrea Pattison who runs St Ronans Care Home in Southsea said: ‘The challenges we’ve faced this year have been unprecedented. I could not be more proud of they way staff have risen to this challenge – they’ve gone above and beyond and shown amazing compassion and professionalism in caring for our residents.’

St Ronan s Nursing and Residential Care Home staff Dorothy Kozma, Rita Carneiro and Jo Jackson are hoping to help residents enjoy Christmas.

Picture: Habibur RahmanSt Ronan s Nursing and Residential Care Home staff Dorothy Kozma, Rita Carneiro and Jo Jackson are hoping to help residents enjoy Christmas.

Picture: Habibur Rahman
St Ronan s Nursing and Residential Care Home staff Dorothy Kozma, Rita Carneiro and Jo Jackson are hoping to help residents enjoy Christmas. Picture: Habibur Rahman

The care home experienced its own Covid outbreak in April which led to 26 of the 45 residents displaying Covid symptoms which sadly led to the loss of four members of the ‘St Ronans family’.

As a registered nurse the full force of the first pandemic wave was felt most by the home’s manager, Lynn Taylor, who was charged with the task of caring for residents with the virus.

Lynn said: ‘We were shocked by how quickly the disease spread. We didn’t have access to oxygen and the only link I had to doctors was via Zoom. We were basically on our own fighting a virus we knew little about.

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‘At first there was very little guidance from the government and many of our staff were scared but they really sparkled in tackling the pandemic and cared for our residents as if they were their own family.’

St Ronans Nursing and Residential Care Home staff have faced the full impact of the pandemic but are looking forward to celebrating Christmas with a range of initiatives for residents.

Picture: Habibur RahmanSt Ronans Nursing and Residential Care Home staff have faced the full impact of the pandemic but are looking forward to celebrating Christmas with a range of initiatives for residents.

Picture: Habibur Rahman
St Ronans Nursing and Residential Care Home staff have faced the full impact of the pandemic but are looking forward to celebrating Christmas with a range of initiatives for residents. Picture: Habibur Rahman
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After such an arduous eight months if any profession deserves a slice of festive relief then it’s the dedicated teams of carers providing residential and outreach care to our most vulnerable people.

While Covid restrictions will prevent a ‘normal’ Christmas, care homes and the wider community are looking to provide some festive fun for both residents, their families and care home workers.

One of the most popular shared experiences is a traditional Christmas carol concert. With ongoing restrictions preventing families and communities coming together, Portsmouth Music Hub have decided to bring the collective power of music into homes and houses with the production of a virtual concert which will be broadcast at 2.30pm on December 22 via the group’s YouTube and Facebook platforms.

Staff at the Alexandra Rose Care Home in Farlington have decorated the garden with festive illuminations for residents to enjoy.Staff at the Alexandra Rose Care Home in Farlington have decorated the garden with festive illuminations for residents to enjoy.
Staff at the Alexandra Rose Care Home in Farlington have decorated the garden with festive illuminations for residents to enjoy.
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The Portsmouth Carols for Care initiative has seen the recording of classic festive tunes performed by local schools including St John’s Cathedral Catholic Primary School, St John’s College, Corpus Christi Primary and St Paul’s Catholic Primary. The collaboration also involved local choirs including the Portsmouth Hub Chamber Choir and St Mary’s Church along with the Salvation Army.

The initiative was co-ordinated by the hub’s chief executive, Sue Beckett.

Sue said: ‘With all the restrictions we knew we wouldn’t be able to host our normal events and so decided to pre-record the carol concert. It’s very difficult for care home residents and families to be together this Christmas but the concert is something they can enjoy together at the same time, all be it not in the same room.

‘Music has the power to connect people and hopefully this is something the concert can do for carers, residents and families.’

Portsmouth Salvation Army perform a pre-recorded rendition of Christmas songs.Portsmouth Salvation Army perform a pre-recorded rendition of Christmas songs.
Portsmouth Salvation Army perform a pre-recorded rendition of Christmas songs.
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Staff at St Ronans have even rewritten the words to the Twelve Days of Christmas to cover the Twelve Days of Caring.

Verses now include lyrics such as ‘On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a carer cuddling me’.

Sue added: ‘After such a challenging year it’s important to make a difference for people in care homes and the concert is something we could do.’

Alexandra Rose Care Home in Farlington has chosen to light up the lives of its residence with a colourful festive illumination display.

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Manager Dan Luter said: ‘We normally take residents on a Santa walk to the garden centre across the road so they can see the grotto and decorations. We obviously can’t do that this year and so I decided to decorate our garden with ten festive inflatables and hundreds of Christmas lights – it was just something to lift people’s spirits.

‘The residents have loved it and have taken turns being taken outside to see the display.’

Choir members take part remotely in Portsmouth Music Hub's  Portsmouth Carols for Care.Choir members take part remotely in Portsmouth Music Hub's  Portsmouth Carols for Care.
Choir members take part remotely in Portsmouth Music Hub's Portsmouth Carols for Care.

Despite the impacts of an unprecedented year the region’s care providers are looking to ensure some semblance of normality for residents this Christmas with the making of decorations, receiving cards from primary schools, enjoying a traditional festive lunch and virtual links to local school’s nativity plays and carol concerts.

The efforts of staff at St Ronans certainly seem to be appreciated by residents.

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Mary Buxey, 91, said: ‘I’m missing my family but I’m very happy with the home. I like the carols and the traditional atmosphere that makes me very happy.’

Andrea, the home’s co-owner, added: ‘There’s no doubt Christmas is going to be a bittersweet experience for residents. All we can do is make the most of what we can to make it as normal an experience as possible.

‘If there’s one positive to come out of the pandemic then hopefully the care sector is starting to get the recognition it deserves including additional government funding to provide staff with the pay rise they deserve.’

CHRISTMAS CARE HOME HAMPERS

To show their unified support for care providers across the city, local businesses and organisations including the University of Portsmouth, Wightlink and Hovertravel have purchased £70 Christmas hampers to deliver to the 39 Portsmouth care homes and auxiliary home care providers.

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The initiative has been co-ordinated by Shaping Portsmouth who will organise the delivery of the hampers in the week leading up to Christmas.

Chief executive Stef Nienaltowski said: ‘We’ve been inundated with pledges of support from our sponsors and now have pledges of 55 hampers which will be delivered to care providers for staff and residents to share and enjoy.

‘It’s hugely important to recognise the work which has been carried out by our care providers. The support from local businesses, schools and colleges really shows the true sense of community in the city which has been incredible to see.

‘I think this support shows just how much the city’s community values its care community.’

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Special praise was reserved for the children of Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS) who’ve donated 500 items to create 25 hampers.

Assistant headteacher of PGS Middle School, Julie Jackson, said: ‘When Shaping Portsmouth got in touch to help support care homes it’s exactly the sort of project our pupils like to get involved in.

‘Many of our students have older relatives they’ve been unable to see and I think the situation in care homes of residents not being able to get together with families is something they can relate to and they wanted to show their support.’

The items have been collected by junior and middle school children.

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Subetsha Vasanthan, 12, said: ‘Some old people can’t see their families this year. We have the opportunities to enjoy Christmas and it’s nice if we can help them to enjoy theirs.’

Classmate Reuben Teasdale, also 12, added: ‘During Covid not many have been out or been to see families so we want to help to keep them in high spirits.’

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A VACCINE

Aside from the tragic loss of residents to Covid the most traumatic consequence for care staff has been seeing residents unable to see their families due to fears of transmission.

With the announcement the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for rollout and with care homes identified for priority status it’s a situation staff hope will soon come to an end.

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Manager of Alexandra Rose Care Home, Dan Luter, said: ‘While we’ve still had face to face visits it has been restricted to one person once a week with a protective dividing screen. These restrictions have had a huge impact on our residents.

‘All our staff have had their flu jabs to be ready in time for a Covid vaccination. Getting the first vaccinations before Christmas really would be the icing on the cake.’

Co-owner of St Ronans Care Home, Andrea Pattison, added: ‘One of the biggest challenges has been seeing our residents having to be separated from loved ones. My ideal present would be a pre-Christmas rollout of the vaccine for residents and workers to allow people and families to get back together – a lot of people working in care also can’t see their families due to the risk of transmission.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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