Tony Pounder, director of adult services at Lancashire County Council, told a meeting of the authority’s performance improvement committee that the finances of some homes in the independent sector could struggle to bear the strain caused by coronavirus - in spite of the assistance that they have received from the authority.
County Hall has so far handed out £7.3m in support to the wider social care market, after offering at the outset of the pandemic to meet the “crisis costs” of providers in order to enable them to continue delivering vital services.
“I think that the care home sector in Lancashire would say that the extra costs associated with Covid have been met - but that’s not to say [it] has fully addressed [their] financial concerns,” Mr. Pounder explained.
“Some care homes have faced a higher level of under-occupancy than they would normally envisage - [with] a higher number of deaths and a reluctance on the part of families to see older relatives go into care homes, perhaps because of concerns about Covid.
“The general pattern from [social care] professionals is to try and do everything to support people to stay at home.
“There are certainly some [care homes] - and we are keeping our communications [going] with them – which are feeling that the potential losses that they face with under-occupancy may well push them very near to the edge, if not over the edge.”
Then meeting heard that the majority of the 425 care homes in the county council area are operated by lone providers rather than national chains.
The county council itself – although responsible for only 16 homes – is the biggest single provider. It has not seen any dip in its occupancy levels to date, at least in part as a result of the rehabilitation placements which it offers for people recently discharged from hospital.
Cabinet member for adult services, Graham Gooch, said that he was concerned about the effect of Covid on care home operators, but added that County Hall had done a “jolly good job” of supporting them.
He told a separate meeting of the internal scrutiny committee that the authority’s policy of phoning each home in the area every day during the pandemic had been welcomed by operators – giving them a guaranteed point of contact to help resolve problems such as PPE shortages and lifting the “administrative burden” of them having to report their Covid data to different national agencies.
Members heard that in the peak period for PPE shortages up to the 1st July, the county council issued 3.2m pieces of kit to the social care sector, responding to an average of 35 appeals per day from those in need of supplies. More than half of the deliveries were made on the same day that they were requested and 95 percent within two days.
Under the umbrella of the Lancashire Resilience Forum, PPE was sourced in bulk from the Far East, with consignments arriving in the county just as supplies were under the greatest pressure.
County Cllr Gooch said that there is now sufficient stock to deal with “a future emergency”.
However, the government last week announced that it would be supplying free PPE to all care homes as part of a near-doubling of the infection prevention control fund created earlier in the summer – with an extra £546m being made available to cover the cost of measures whoch also include restricting staff movements between care homes to reduce the risk of spreading Covid between different settings.