There is no escaping the fact that – while carers themselves may have been widely lauded for their response to the pandemic – the reputation of care homes as a whole has taken a battering. Media reports of Covid outbreaks within homes has undermined confidence in the sector’s ability to protect residents, staff, relatives and the wider community from Covid-19, while headlines about desperate relatives being prosecuted for removing their loved ones from homes has undermined faith in the sector’s empathy and compassion. Confidence in your care home is vital to ensuring commercial success: without it, it’s hard to attract or retain residents – or the staff needed to look after them. It’s a vital element of ensuring commercial success, so how can you restore confidence in your care home to underpin its commercials in 2021?
Confidence crisis: residents, potential residents and their relatives
Loss of confidence in your care home impacts all your stakeholders. Consider firstly prospective residents and their relatives. If they lose confidence, families may be reticent to place their elderly relatives in your home. Instead, they’ll look for a care home with a perceived better track record on infection control or even to care for their loved one in the community. As significant – and potentially more reputationally damaging – is a loss of confidence among your current residents and their families. They may look to remove their loved ones from your care home. This, in turn, will impact on commercials by reducing occupancy rates. It will have a knock-on effect of possible bad publicity. That will make filling that vacant space all the harder at a time when COVID-19 makes filling rooms difficult enough as it is.
Add to this mix a compliance system that is itself under scrutiny. Further undermining the confidence of consumers who will have hoped that the compliance system could be relied upon – and the scale of the challenge becomes evident.
Confidence crisis: recruiting and retaining staff
A care home in which there’s a lack of confidence isn’t one that people will wish to be associated with. That just doesn’t mean residents, but staff and potential employees, too. Subsequently you may find yourself handling problems of staff recruitment and retention.
A recent report on care-sector staff based on information gathered before the pandemic revealed that 7.3% of jobs are vacant on any given day within the adult social care sector in England alone. Moreover, the government’s current position on care workers from overseas and new Brexit regulations mean that it will even harder to find staff moving forwards.
Restoring care home confidence through infection control
Reports of Covid outbreaks within care homes have been the factor that has caused the greatest loss of confidence in the sector. Therefore, establishing and communicating that you have effective infection control measures is one of the key objectives for restoring confidence in 2021.
Technology may be key for many care home owners and providers in delivering infection control measures in which residents, their families, staff and the wider community can have faith. Investments made by leading providers in Scotland and Leeds have successfully gathered the sort of positive headlines that can do so much to restore reputation.
Restoring care home confidence through safe visits
Key to restoring confidence in care homes has been a wave of new schemes aiming to allow relatives to visit their loved ones as safely as possible. In a pilot scheme operating in Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall, 23 homes are currently trialling a government-backed scheme that sees regular care home visitors regularly tested for the virus. One of these is Fulcrum’s client, Southern Health Care.
Should the application of this system prove practicable across the country, some visiting restrictions should be able to be removed, ensuring greater protection, less frustration and increased confidence in your care home for all stakeholders – especially if it is combined with the mass vaccination programme that government is currently preparing, subject to drug approval.
Restoring care home confidence by facilitating visitor access
During the summer restrictions, it was relatively easy to erect temporary gazebos in outdoor spaces. The colder months have required a wholly new approach with bespoke visitor suites. A key consideration for such visitor pods is that visitors must be able to access them without walking through your care home. This means either siting it in the gardens or car park, or making it accessible through external doors.
Delays in creating COVID-secure visiting areas may have been attributable to a shortage of suitable building materials. For example, Perspex. Those that have found solutions have been quick to reap the benefits of increased happiness and health-security for clients. This is the same for visitors and, thereby staff, too.
Care-home owners and providers may feel establishment of permanent resident-visitor facilities is a big outlay for a short-term problem. However, the need for infection control is likely to continue long into the future. It should always be a priority for any reputable care home. So, such facilities are an investment with lasting value to underpin your commercials.
Restoring care home confidence through social traction and reputation management
Failure to restore confidence impacts so many areas. Especially so when compounded by the effects of negative publicity. On the other hand, relatives are often communicating with one another via WhatsApp and Facebook groups. Word of the positive benefits of imaginative safety initiatives has reached the correct audience swiftly. One care home’s success story regarding its COVID-secure visitor pod received no less than a million page views on Facebook.
We have outlined other ideas for marketing strategies to communicate your successes to restore confidence in our white paper.
Restoring care home staff confidence
All of the above strategies will not only help boost confidence among residents, prospective residents and their families. They’ll also boost confidence amongst your staff and potential staff. It is still worth giving additional consideration to how you will attract and retain the right employees. How will they enable you to deliver the kind of care further augmenting the confidence of your consumer stakeholders?
You may take some comfort in the knowledge that the challenge of coronavirus may also be part of the solution. The focus on social care during Covid has increased interest in it as a career among the young.
However, the challenges posed by Brexit will make recruitment harder. A key strategy will be to improve staff retention rates. After all, it is so much more cost-effective to retain existing staff than to recruit afresh. The right training can be key here. Equip staff with the skills to succeed, boost their confidence in their own abilities and make them feel valued.
The Welsh government’s 10-year strategy for the health and social care workforce, which aims to engage and motivate them and empower them to develop their skills may provide some useful pointers.
Restoring confidence in the care home sector is truly possible. Testing pilots and vaccination programmes are intended to be rolled out across the country in the spring of 2021. Meanwhile, ensuring that there are COVID-safe visitor areas within care homes is essential. As is regular communication between management and all the different stakeholder groups. Ultimately, renewed confidence in your care home is vital to ensuring commercial success. Fortunately, we are already seeing moves towards that happening.