Volunteering In Care Homes – A Love Letter.
Last week, I was sent on a mission to volunteer in St Cecilia’s care home, down in Bournemouth. I was excited about the prospect of spending two days in an environment I’m not familiar with.
St Cecilia’s care home.
St Cecilia is a cute, modest care home in Bournemouth. It’s a 15 bedrooms home, with a big garden where they organise barbecues and tea parties in the summer, a nice modernistic kitchen; but really the heart of the house, where everything happens, is the lounge. We arrived in the morning. We had a meeting with St Cecilia’s supervisor, Robin, who was kind enough to give us a couple of hours of his time. Time he definitely does not have, and he probably wishes he could get back (sorry Robin!). Ultimately, we wanted to understand how our care home management software, Log my Care, helped him on a daily basis. Each one of our clients uses it differently, so we’re always really curious. It’s part of the job.
Robin had so much feedback to offer, and soon we were enthusiastically hearing his ideas, from implementing Body Maps and eMar into the software, to displaying our logo on their doorstep for people to see. It felt like he was proud of using our software, and that’s when I started grasping the importance of what we’re developing and marketing every day from our cosy offices in London.
I could see the pressure the supervisor had on his shoulders, the amount of work he couldn’t get away from, and an overall overwhelming sense of underachievement. But trust us Robin, you’re doing the best you can. And so are many other care home managers and owners in the UK who feel lost and overwhelmed, misunderstood and most of the time, really lonely. Well, you’re not alone. And I’m writing this for you too.
I started off in the Care home’s lounge by trying to help where I could. I was welcomed with some warm tea, a few smiles and a bit of confusion.
“Who are you? What do you do? Have you worked as a carer before?”
But not once did I feel unwelcome. No matter what I was there to accomplish, the lovely carers of St Cecilia’s assumed I was there to help, one way or another. And at that moment, I understood their trusting nature.
I was wondering how I could be useful, being a part of this and still doing my job. How can you actually be two things at the same time? Caring, but collecting information for our marketing strategy. It’s a complex situation to be in. Patience, empathy, and adaptive skills are key. If you’re not genuine, carers won’t open up. In other words, be authentic.
They showed me how they use Log my Care on their tablet on a daily basis.
At St Cecilia’s, they’ve got a tablet for all carers to use if they want to, but everybody just uses their personal phones. And that is really up to the home. Some homes purchase new phones for their personnel. That depends on their budget and the size of the organisation. Some of them highlighted the fact that it was rare to work with so many carers at the same time on a shift. “You’d usually have 2 carers for this number of residents!” In this case, they were about 5 carers for 9 residents. Robin, the supervisor warned me that most residents were struggling with dementia. With that in mind, I observed carefully.
It was nearly time for lunch. I noticed carers were particularly interested in two people who were losing too much weight, and needed extra attention. It was quiet. I introduced myself, but it was difficult to communicate. After some time, and an incalculable number of smiles, some residents started trusting me and saw me as a carer. It was a shifting moment, and I felt like I could interact more.
At some point, one person refused to eat lunch. A member of the team knew exactly how to react. It’s one thing to know how to behave with people who are struggling with dementia, it’s another to keep calm when you feel like you can’t control a situation. And that’s also part of their everyday life at work. Dealing with unpredictable behaviours, staying focused, mindful of the person’s history and needs. That takes strength and courage.
I noticed the staff member jumped. But in a fraction of a second, she was back smiling. She came up to me and whispered in my ear to reassure me: “I know exactly what to do in this case. You’ve got to leave her alone with the food, and don’t approach her again. Then, you’ll see, she eats.” And she was right.
Carers do a job that most couldn’t handle. They don’t like the attention, but I think it’s important to highlight that they are everyday superheroes. It’s called true altruism. You take care of our loved ones like they are your family. And it makes me love my job even more.
Their thoughts on Log my Care.
The team recorded what everyone had eaten before they could take a bit of time for themselves. To eat, have a laugh, connect. They very nicely offered me some lunch, which I ate enthusiastically. The conversation circled back to the app. I asked;
“What’s your way of recording a care note on Log my Care?
How is the Risk Assessment platform working for you?
What shall we throw away?
What’s your day to day experience with the app…?”
One by one, carers offered to show me how they use our app, how it helps them on a daily basis, and how they’d like us to improve it. Most referred features were already being developed by our engineering and design team, so it acted as a confirmation of what we were already working on.
What’s the best part of it? “It saves so much time and energy! We love it!”
Is it easy to use? “Yes, so easy!”
But what I really wanted to know, was what to report to my team. I needed them to tell me what they hate about it and what they’d improve. And then, everyone started participating: “Body Maps! It’s insane that we’re still doing those on paper.” Ok… what else? “We need notifications to tell us which person is linked to a certain incident report, otherwise we need to scroll down and find the report…” Ok, noted. Their suggestions were eye-opening, but I also knew we were developing a body maps feature already.
Log my care is also a great tool to use when an inspector shows up.
At some point, I noticed someone sitting in the back room, playing around with the Care Office. The person was introduced to me as an inspector, from social services. We chatted a while, and I asked her what she thought of our software. Her feedback was refreshing and highly encouraging, I couldn’t wait to report to the team.
New residents, and Tai Chi.
The next day, I was excited to help for breakfast, and impatient to see St Cecilia’s team and residents.
The team explained new residents were due to arrive in the morning around 11. They seemed relaxed. They were obviously used to it. I asked what the procedure was in this case, they looked very confused. “What do you mean?” I didn’t think it’d be wise to ask anything further. I was there to observe, after all.
I sat down in the lounge. The sky was cloudy, there was a chilly breeze outside. The perfect weather to sit in and have a nice conversation.
Then, came in the new residents. It was a couple. I didn’t expect that. I thought it might be a bit difficult, but I didn’t expect to witness such a moment of beauty and sadness at the same time. I was told they knew the home and spent an afternoon at St Cecilia’s before. But only the nice lady could remember that afternoon. I spent the rest of my time with these two, bringing them hot drinks and helping during Tai Chi. I absolutely loved their company and I felt lucky to hear about the stories of when he was a pianist.
A love letter to care homes staff and their clients.
This was my second time volunteering at a care home. As a non-carer, I thought my experience in Bournemouth was insightful, and this blog is a modest but sincere love letter for anybody working in the social care industry. I’ve witnessed people working under a different kind of high pressure, in an environment that is cruel, but very real. In an industry that isn’t forgiving, and a country that isn’t quite supportive. And I’m glad that by working at Log my Care, I’m contributing to making care homes a better place. At least here, management understands how important it is for each member of staff to grasp what is going on in our care homes.
Massive thanks to Robin for letting us in, the whole team for trusting me and agreeing to take part of my photoshoot, and of course residents for welcoming me into their lives for two days.
Is Log my Care right for your care service?
We don’t like to brag, but we think any care home should at least give Log my Care a go – you’ll be part of a growing community in the care industry’s digital revolution. Simply create a free account, add your service-users and staff, in minutes and away you go. We’ll even talk you through the process if you need a little bit of help.