Opinion: Adapting care homes during Covid

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 May, 2021 at 11:41 pm by Andre Camilleri

Dr Sarah Cassar is managing director, St George’s Care Ltd

When the Coronavirus outbreak reached Malta, care homes had to rethink all aspects of their operations. At St George’s Care, where we have always prioritised socialisation, active ageing and community integration, we faced a compete realignment of priorities.

Watching the virus ravage through the industry in neighbouring EU states, we knew we needed drastic and quick measures. Within a few days of the first case being reported in Malta, Casa Antonia, our flagship home in Balzan, was placed in total lockdown with residents unable to leave the home and employees living within the home on a three-week rotation basis. The live-in lasted 12 weeks, ending in June 2020. We had anticipated that these first three months of the outbreak would be the most difficult, however, life beyond these 12 weeks turned out to be just as challenging.

When the Covid-19 pandemic swept through our island we had to reshape our mindset, from social-based and interaction-fuelled activities among our residents and their relatives and friends, to a state of mind where interaction must be limited. 

Prior to the pandemic, whenever we organised a social event, whether daily masses, crafts’ sessions, garden parties or summer concerts, we would extend an invitation to the residents’ relatives and friends to ensure continual inclusion in their life within the home. Once lockdown measures were instated, events got limited to residents only. This obviously had an impact on them. It also meant we had to completely alter all aspects of our operations, from the way we roster our staff, to the way residents communicate with their relatives and friends.

We have also experienced an increase in overall costs. Firstly, due to growing expenditure towards personal protection equipment, sanitisation and enhanced monitoring of residents’ health. But more importantly, Covid-19-related procedures, such as monitoring visitors by appointment and bubbling residents according to their floor, also necessitated more staff.

Under a bubbling system, residents were only allowed to interact with staff and residents from a limited group. This meant we were running three smaller centres, as opposed to one large operation and consequently deprived our economies of scale. The system required separate rosters for each floor and new equipment to enable each floor to have its own dining space and activity area.

As a further safety precaution, part-time employees were barred to avoid contamination from other workplaces. Extra staff was needed to ensure all guidelines were followed, in order to make up the lacunas resulting from ill or quarantined staff and to replace those who needed to stay at home with vulnerable family members or children.

Elderly care homes were also required to keep a number of beds vacant to be used as contingency beds should residents be quarantined. For several months, we were prohibited from admitting new residents. 

While we see a silver lining as measures are easing and Malta is making strides in the vaccine rollout, we look forward to the months ahead. Although 94% of our employees and staff are now vaccinated, certain restrictions continue to remain in place.  

Under the aegis of the two-decade-long Casa Antonia expertise and values, while following all the incumbent Covid-19 restrictions, we continue to organise different events for our residents, keeping a strict focus on in-house social activities. We have been able to face the challenges of these extraordinary times thanks to our dedicated and excellent staff to whom we owe our gratitude. The experience of living within Casa Antonia turned out to be one huge team-building event which I feel honoured to have been a part of.

During the same period, we were forging our way forward with the renovation works of The Imperial. This iconic property, located at the heart of Sliema, has undergone a €35m major refurbishment to become a one-of-a-kind palatial retirement home.

The integrity of our values remains embedded in the Casa Antonia operations even in these difficult times and are being replicated in The Imperial to offer our residents the most excellent care possible in the ethos of active, independent ageing. We are ever so excited for our residents to be able to reintegrate with their family and friends and for us to be able to open our doors to society once more.

At The Imperial we have 6,000sq.m. of recreational space ready to be filled with laughter and life. Our facilities include several lounges, a chapel, a 700sq.m. courtyard with an aviary and pond, a cafeteria, a library, a cinema room, several multipurpose halls and a wellness centre including a physiotherapy centre, fitness gym, hydrotherapy pool and hair salon.

Continuing in the tradition of in-house cooking at Casa Antonia, we will offer à la carte dining in our grand restaurant at The Imperial, where all facilities will be open to our own residents as well as outside guests.

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