Battle on home front

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Care homes are in crisis, according to the catalogue of complaints, and concern, reported in recent days, so how does it feel to be fighting for a better deal on the home frontline?

Two years ago, he took on The Willows, Midgeland Road, Marton, which had been running on half empty, and little investment, for many years.

“It felt more like a private house with owners living in, virtually rent-free, with a few sitting tenants, than a care home,” he admits.

He set about upgrading facilities. Rooms, for 12 residents, were already spacious, but proprietor Paul wanted them of “boutique hotel standard.”

One designer offered a makeover which would have improved the appearance, but needed replacing in no time. Instead, Paul splashed the cash, £1,000 per makeover, on a different company offering far higher specifications.

“We didn’t want it to feel, or smell, like a home, but home, with service thrown in, the next best thing to a hotel but with a lasting level of comfort, and personal care.”

Resident Olive Troop can vouch for that. “It’s lovely here.”

An open house policy exists for visiting, from 11am to 7pm, with no set times for meals – or bedtimes!

Now Paul is on with a sensory garden, with the help of residents and their relatives.

He cherishes a thank you from the daughter of a resident for removing a partition which had made her mother’s path by wheelchair difficult for nine years.

“We had to take up the carpets, then the floorboards, so spent £5k getting it right, but it was worth it.”

The home’s full and has a waiting list, and includes clients placed there, and mostly funded by, the local authority, as well as others.

Paul says Blackpool Council, which has closed so many of its own care homes, is the only allied organisation with which he has least contact.

“When I called and asked for a meeting, they asked me why? Why not?” He sees closer relationships with all who place residents with him as a must.

“I want this home at the heart of the area, not a place people walk past. I want people to know what happens here. I don’t want all homes tarred with the same brush.”

He admits he felt “choked” when watching BBC’s Panorama expose of brutality and neglect in a Bristol private residential hospital for people with learning difficulties, earlier this week.

Then he learned of the financial meltdown, faced by Southern Cross Healthcare, Britain’s biggest care home provider, which currently accommodates 10 per cent of all elderly people in residential care. Two are in Blackpool.

Southern Cross reported a £311m loss in the six months to the end of March, and blames problems on reduced council spending on long-term care. The group announced it will be forced to cut rent paid to landlords of the homes by 30 per cent for four months.

Paul adds: “It can be hard to balance books even when you’re a small operator.

“We’ve been hit pretty hard by VAT, fuel and wage increases, and issues with training which, up until March, were pretty much free but have now all gone. The fees we get from local authority-funded residents have not increased in four years – and some councils are reducing their fees.

“Membership of the Care Quality Commission has gone up from £900 to £1,600 in our case, and we’re not even a big home. Nor were we consulted. If we wanted to do the same to our clients we’d have to go through due process of consultation.

“If we want to boost our rating to excellent we will have to pay quite a lot for the CQC inspection, although they’re free in the lower categories. That could price some out who want to improve standards. There’s room for improvement.”

This week a care home in Burnley was castigated by the Care Quality Commission, independent industry watchdog, for failing in the most basic elements of care.

A care worker also called a radio station to say he had quit work after elderly people were left in soiled incontinence pads for hours at a south Fylde home, because of shortages of supplies and staff.

Paul’s a relative newcomer to an industry once seen as a cash cow by hoteliers converting premises to private rest homes in the 1980s, and believes a lot of today’s issues come down to understaffing.

“Care workers care,” he stresses, “and many of the problems experienced come down to the fact carers are doing everything else beside. When I came in, we had two carers on duty at any give time, but they cooked and cleaned, as well as cared for the residents. I took on a cook and a housekeeper and left the carers to care.”

jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk