Published: 06:00, 20 April 2021
| Updated: 16:01, 20 April 2021
A care service has become the third run by the same company to be plunged into special measures in a matter of weeks.
Shine Supported Living in Herne Bay was rated ‘Inadequate’ after a damning Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection found “clients were not protected from abuse and harm”.
It is the third Optima-owned service in the town since March 24 to receive the grading – the lowest possible.
The damning CQC report into Shine Supported Living, a service based in Lancaster Gardens for people with learning disabilities, found “several incidents” where one of its two clients receiving personal care had “pinched and bitten” the other.
Inspectors noted that, despite knowing this, carers had not taken the necessary steps “to reduce the risks” this posed to the victim.
They added: “A relative we spoke with had concerns about their family members care.
“They told us their family member would ‘come home with scratches around her neck, bruises on her arms and a bite make on her shoulder’.
“They told us on one occasion recently their family member had a bruise that was going yellow. They said, ‘I think she gets bruises because there isn’t enough staff.’”
Staff were found to not have “the right training or skills” for their roles, which inspectors observed had a “major impact” on people’s safety.
The report stated this was exacerbated by an “insufficient” number of staff at Shine, which has seven clients living in supported settings in all.
A “widespread and significant shortfalls in leadership” was also discovered during the visit last month. The meant the culture created by bosses “did not assure the delivery of high-quality care”.
“Staff fed back they did feel supported by the manager,” the report added.
'They told us their family member would ‘come home with scratches around her neck, bruises on her arms and a bite make on her shoulder’...'
“Comments included, ‘There have been lot of positive changes. I feel listened to. She’s approachable.’
“However, staff were working a 12-hour shift and were not allocated a break despite staff telling us they would like one.
“We spoke to the manager about this, they told us, ‘I will pop over and ask them if they want to step out’. They acknowledged this was not a formal break.”
Employment law states that workers are entitled to an uninterrupted break of at least 20 minutes if they work more than six hours in one day.
Optima had also failed to take steps to notify the CQC of incidents at the service in a reasonable time.
“For example, in January one person was physically abused by another person,” inspectors wrote.
“However, the CQC was not made aware of this until March.”
So serious were its findings into the failings at Heron House that residents are set to be moved elsewhere after it was ruled they were “not safe and at risk of avoidable harm”.
Optima later confirmed that some staff members in the company have been suspended pending a “full and independent investigation”.
Five of the company’s nine Kent-based services are rated inadequate, while two have been placed in the next-worst banding, “requires improvement”.
‘Avoid firm at all costs’
Former Optima Care employees have complained of “absolutely horrendous” wages, toxic work environments and neglectful managers at the company.
Several former Optima carers have urged job-hunters not to join the firm, with one - writing on employment website Indeed last summer - saying she had “noticed a terrible change in the service and company”. Another claimed “individuals are not seen as humans”.
And one other staff member revealed employees received “zero support” and implored out-of-work carers to “avoid this company at all costs”.
They added: “There’s absolutely horrendous pay and an even worse culture - if they [managers] can point the finger at you to save themselves, they absolutely will.”
Optima Care’s chief executive, Eddie Coombes, says the comments, posted more than five months ago, were “related to the breakdown in leadership across our Kent services, which resulted in the suspension of a number of staff members”.
He added: “We have taken significant actions in recent weeks to improve the management of those homes.
“Our own staff surveys show our staff are satisfied with working conditions. This is backed up by high levels of retention, with staff working for us for an average of more than five years.”
Reports 'not reflective of the care we provide'
Mr Coombes also says recent issues highlighted by the CQC are “deeply concerning”.
He stresses that action has been taken to bring homes up to standard and is “confident the situation has improved”.
He added: “Most of our care homes in Kent were rated ‘Good’ on their previous CQC inspections, and we firmly believe the latest ratings are due to a breakdown of management at a county level. We have suspended members of staff at this management grade, pending an independent investigation.
"We will finalise the outcome of that review shortly.
“We are disappointed in some of the assessments. Nevertheless, we are working closely with the CQC and Kent County Council to address their concerns.
“We have also been undertaking our own review of our services in Kent. A number of immediate changes have been made already.
“We appointed a new manager for Shine Supported Living three months ago and the team has been given training and support to ensure we rapidly implement improvement plans.
“We are in the process of recruiting new managers for homes in Kent rated ‘Inadequate’ by CQC.
“We have also employed a new specialist manager for all our services rated Inadequate in the Herne Bay area to oversee improvements. In addition, we are providing additional training and reviewing care plans.
“We believe the reports are not reflective of the care we are committed to providing residents. The past year has been extremely challenging, following restrictions of activities, adapting to PPE and pressures on the workforce.
“We are committed to supporting staff and residents through this difficult period.”