Published: 11:13, 14 April 2020
| Updated: 11:52, 14 April 2020
Staff at two care homes have “paused their personal lives indefinitely” by volunteering to go into lockdown with elderly residents in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Bosses at St Brelades and The Cumberland in Herne Bay have spent £20,000 kitting out offices and spare rooms with bunk beds and mattresses to accommodate a total of 30 workers.
Of the staff who have moved in, many have left partners and children at home to help keep residents safe.
The homes – which together care for about 60 elderly women with dementia – have also been closed off to visitors and have food deliveries dropped at their doors.
Larry Berkowitz, who runs both of the facilities, says he feared the usual comings and goings of his 100-strong workforce could have led to an outbreak of Covid-19.
“The only way I could think of eliminating that risk was by having them actually live there and making an almost hostel type of thing,” he explained.
“The carers have paused their lives indefinitely. Some of them have young families, but as far as they’re concerned the residents are their families too.
“I just thought that with a small team of staff coming in and out every day, it was just a matter of time before someone gave it to someone else.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been proved right because home after home have been carrying on as normal – they’ve cancelled non-essential staff at best – and I’m hearing of dozens of people being affected and dying.”
Mr Berkowitz says a number of members of staff who were unable to move into the homes have been placed on furlough.
He has also recruited carers from across the country to replace those who could not volunteer to go into lockdown.
Thousands of pounds have been spent on turning the rooms into living quarters and purchasing games consoles and televisions.
An entertainer, who organises activities for clients, has also volunteered to move into the homes.
Staff member Lynsey Palmer, who has left her partner and child to live permanently at the homes, says morale remains high among carers and residents.
“So far it has been working,” she added.
“We're all pulling together to make the ladies safe, comfortable and happy, and we're all really good friends having a good time doing it.
"It has of course been really difficult to leave my family, and they are worried about me.
“But they also understand that the health of the residents is our overriding priority at the moment and the only way to achieve this is to completely isolate and lockdown the building.”
Mr Berkowitz says the homes, which are located in Beacon Hill and Beltinge Road, have not yet had a case of coronavirus.
They are checking the temperatures of residents each day, but he believes that the government would “change the game” if it started disseminating testing kits.
He continued: “I don’t know of other homes doing this and don’t know how it could be industry-wide because it’s a huge thing to organise.”
Staff at St Peter's care home in St George's Terrace have also gone into voluntary lockdown in attempt to protect elderly residents.
Bosses expect this to continue for the next four weeks.