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Autumna helpline founder from Tunbridge Wells looks at how safe it is to live in a care home during coronavirus

The well-being of those living in care homes during the coronavirus pandemic has been a concern felt by many people in Kent and the rest of the country.

With the number of deaths in these facilities at first left out of the Government's daily figures, and visiting for families limited, many worried residents were being sidelined.

There has been a 60% drop in Kent care home deaths in one week
There has been a 60% drop in Kent care home deaths in one week

But now, cases and deaths in care homes are being monitored and there has been a 60% drop in the death toll in Kent in a week.

However, problems with PPE continue to be faced in many homes across the county.

In light of this, a Tunbridge Wells-based care home helpline, Autumna, is offering advice for families struggling to decide where it is best for their elderly relatives to be during the pandemic.

The founder of the UK's largest independent directory of elderly care providers, Debbie Harris, is using one answer provided to a client as an example of what needs to be considered.

Mrs Harris was asked by an anonymous caller: "I don’t think my mum is safe on her own at home any more, but with the Covid crisis, I think she might be in more danger in a care home. What should I do?"

Her response was as follows:

Founder of Autumna, Debbie Harris
Founder of Autumna, Debbie Harris

"This is a question we’re being asked a lot.

"Your mum lives alone and is 150 miles away, she has had a couple of minor falls in the last few months and you feel it is only a matter of time before she has a serious one.

"While your mum’s neighbours have been great during the lockdown, dropping off food and keeping an eye on her, when you speak on the phone you can tell she is lonely and getting more and more confused.

"The first thing to consider is her safety.

"Is she safe at home? Could a home care company provide the support she needs to eat regularly, provide companionship and check up on her on a daily basis?

"If it were not for Covid, the care home option would normally have been the obvious one"

"If you are still worried about the risk of her falling in between visits, this could be mitigated with the use of assistive technology like a wearable life-line.

"One thing that should be considered though, is that not only might there be the possibility of the carers coming in being both contagious and asymptomatic, but the home care agency might also be reluctant themselves to take on any new clients who haven’t been tested for Covid-19.

"Another option, if she wants to stay at home, would be live-in care. Live-in care has seen very few Covid cases during the pandemic. It is more expensive than home care and the house would need to be big enough to provide accommodation for the carer.

"With both home care and live-in care, you might still be concerned about your mum’s loneliness and what appears to be declining mental and physical abilities.

"If it were not for Covid, the care home option would normally have been the obvious one. In normal circumstances, a care home provides the opportunity for companionship and support.

"Barrier nursing though would most likely be enforced on admission - at least during a quarantine period. This would mean any friendships formed would be just between your mum and her carers. Meeting the other residents would have to wait. Any visits from you would probably have to be from the other side of a pane of glass.

"However, your mum would get to eat and drink properly. If she fell, she would have carers on hand to help her immediately. And a care home might be better equipped to assess any early signs of dementia.

"The question then is to do with Covid and how likely is it your mum might contract the virus in a care home.

"Testing in care homes has just been rolled out by the government. PPE supplies are improving and figures released in the last week suggest that, like the rest of the country, Covid-related deaths in care homes are now falling.

"There have been hotspots where the virus has taken hold, but Covid-free care homes do exist in large areas of the country and if you can find one that has successfully kept the virus at bay until now, then in all likelihood, that care home will be a very, very safe place to be.

"Right now, the choice is an incredibly difficult one. Research is the key."

Earlier this month, Autumna launched an online scoring system for care providers to encourage more openness about fees, staff and facilities.

Read more: All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells

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