Covid-19 lockdown: Rest home staff move in with residents

From Checkpoint, 6:26 pm on 2 April 2020

The spread of Covid-19 has been particularly challenging for rest homes, many of which have been under lockdown since early March, with a ban on visitors.

But staff at the Bradford Manor Rest Home in Dunedin decided to go a step further - most of them moved in with their residents.

"We talked about it… The idea had gone around the group - what if this scenario came up," manager Michelle Donaldson told Checkpoint

The 26-bed dementia unit is run by a small, dedicated team of 12. 

Without hesitation nine of the team agreed to move in for the lockdown, to keep the vulnerable elderly residents safe, Donaldson said. 

The group includes caregivers, nurses and even the chef. 

They are staying in spare rooms in the rest home, and sharing communal spaces and the gardens with residents.

One staff member staying onsite, Monita, said it has been important for both staff and the residents to keep a sense of normality while what is going on outside is anything but normal.

"When we come on shift we actually wear a uniform so everybody knows those are the ones on shift, to keep the routine going. If you didn't do that you'd get confused people."

With extra people in the rest home, resident cook Philippa said it is like cooking Christmas lunch every day. 

Staying away from family is tough but the best thing to do, she said. She calls her two boys on FaceTime every night. 

"My boys read me their books. It's just a shame not being at home you can't give them cuddles. It is pretty hard."

"I was probably the first one to say one to say 'I'm in'. My oldest, 18, has acute COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. There's only one functioning lung, I couldn't risk bringing it in."

Caregiver JR said initially she had reservations about living in the workplace.

"At the start I thought it was going to be a bit difficult - everyone living in the same space. 

"But it's been good after a few days, getting used to everyone, having my own little spare time where I go outside and do exercise. So it's been good."

She said the residents are coping well with the change.

"I think they're more settled that we're here. If we're not on shift we're just sitting down with them, having time to talk to them, taking them for walks… I think they're more settled that we're all here together."

The team staying onsite said they feel like a family, and have no problems being in lockdown together for the next few weeks. 

Manager Michelle is keeping them in contact with the outside world, with errands like running tests to the doctors.  

She said the support her team has received from their community and the rest of New Zealand has been humbling.

"We've had so many emails, we've had people dropping chocolate off at the gate. It's just been amazing. We've had ten pairs of Thunderpants donated to us all as well. 

"We've got our local community policeman who comes up every day, rings the bell just to do a health check, a welfare check. 

"We're overwhelmed by the support we've had from everybody, it's actually kept everybody going."