The highs and lows of a life working in care

Care team: Louise Newton, second left, and her staff.
Care team: Louise Newton, second left, and her staff.
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Louise Newton has been in the care industry for 30 years and for the past three she has been the manager at Brookside Care Home in Bamber Bridge, near Preston.

She has held management roles for the past 10 years and is passionate about the care industry. So passionate that she wants to make sure not all homes are tarred with the same brush.

The 51-year-old contacted the Evening Post following a series we published called Crisis in Care about care homes in central Lancashire failing following analysis of Care Quality Commission reports – and she said she wanted a reporter to spend some time in the home she manages to present a true reflection of the struggles.

Here Louise tells reporter LAURA WILD about those struggles.

“We come to work with a plan of what we are going to do that day and what we are going to achieve – and it never ever happens,” she says frankly from her office in Brookside.

Around us there are buzzers sounding, the phone ringing, the noise of the showers running and the hustle and bustle of staff getting residents ready for the day.

There are 25 beds in the home, with residents ages ranging from 72 to 101, all with a diverse range of needs, some rely on the care assistants completely, others hardly at all and the staff range in age for 27 to 60, including carers, a cook, a maintenance man, a housekeeper and an activities co-ordinator.

Louise is dressed in a dark blue tunic with a pink nurses’ watch pinned on her chest. The shelves in front of her are full of folders detailing care plans for residents.

“I can be planning a review or do an appraisal with one of the staff or an audit and somebody will ring in sick, then I have to do the rotas. Or a resident becomes ill, that takes priority – there’s a whole host of things that go wrong. You’re constantly interrupted and distracted because there’s other needs. A nurse may come, or a relative is upset, or somebody knocks on the door and wants a look around.”

Louise isn’t complaining though, she loves her job, She is of an incredibly kind nature, she is compassionate and understanding. She’s honest and speaks her mind and she wants people who have a preconceived ideas about care homes to understand more about them. She wants folk to know they are not a ‘waiting room for god’ and just how much goes on that the outside world does realise.

“There are a lot of pressures that we face. In an ideal world I would like to put 10/15 staff on to 25 residents. We would love nothing better than to sit down and chat with them, but the time doesn’t allow. We have to be a viable businesses. Staffing has to be safe, we can’t staff to the extent we would like to. We give good quality care but we would like more time in a day that isn’t afforded us.”

Asked if she thinks the industry has changed a lot in her 30 years, Louise says: “Fundamentally I don’t think it has , because care is care. You either care for somebody or you don’t but environmentally it has changed an awful lot – not all for the bad. On the whole I think it has changed for the good.

“There’s a better environment for the residents, with privacy, dignity and respect. I remember a long time ago, 15, 20 years ago, when residents had to queue for the loo like they were on a conveyor belt. There were set times for this and that – that’s not happening anymore. There is a much more flexible approach now.”

She adds: “It’s all I have ever done, if you told me next week I had to change my job and work in a different environment, in an office, a shop or a factory I would be devastated. We do really dirty jobs, we clean vomit, faeces, a whole host of things. People allow us in to the most undignified part of their life – that is a privilege. That sounds crazy doesn’t it?

“A lot of the time it can be thankless, but the majority of the time it’s not. When you go in and they smile, you can’t put a price on that. You can’t put a price on when you talk to them, find out about their life, who they are and what they have done, the good time and the bad, to hear about their fascinating life and to make them smile, you can’t put a price on that.

“You only have to hear one person, it could be a relative, a resident, a staff member, say ‘thank you really helped me’. The stresses of every day mean we have too much going on that are all of equal priority, sometimes you feel like you’re drowning in it all.”

Just one example of the stresses Louise talks about was the day a man died suddenly at the home, leaving staff distraught. “I have got to be the rock I have got to support the staff. They were really upset but we have to carry on for the other residents, they are grieving too, they have lost their friend. What I really wanted to do was come in the office shut the door and cry, but I couldn’t. The family was distraught, it had an impact on everybody.”

Louise says stories about abuse in care homes reported in the press are alarming and upsetting – as she can’t comprehend why anyone would do such a thing - and says she reminds staff at Brookside that if there was ever any kind of issue they can report it an are safe to whistleblow. “I have really pushed forward the whistle blowing policy”

But such stories can also impact families looking at care homes, who are concerned and ‘over protective’.

Louise explains: “The families that I have met are traumatised, they are fearful, they feel that they have let their parents down because they have cared for them for the last 20 years and all of sudden they can’t manage, they have to face the reality that the person they love requires 24 hour care.

“I think there is still that conception out there that they have been dumped in a home – because they don’t have any experience of what the care sector is like. They are very overprotective when they first come in, they can be here three or four times a day, which is understandable. They do come to realise that their relative is making friends and having a good time – that’s when things start to settle down. We have got to empathise as much as we can. We can’t say ‘I know how you feel’ because we can’t, but we can try to empathise.”

And she says her advice to people looking for a care home for their loved one is to make a list of what is important, what you will compromise on, what you won’t compromise on and what they can live without.

To those who have preconceived ideas about care homes, she encourages them to get involved, to volunteer, and find out more about what happens in care homes. At Brookside there’s a range of activities daily for residents as well as trips out, a hairdresser visits weekly and residents’ meetings mean they have a huge say on what they want, like and enjoy – and of course what they dislike.