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People who need People
Positive living and learning for people with epilepsy and other complex needs
Tough Times Blog

People who need People

People who need People

*picture featured in this article taken before social distancing measures were necessary*

St Elizabeth’s is, above all else, about people.  Our mission is to help our residents and learners to grow, learn and lead the best lives they can.  But our tools for that – the only real tools we have – are our staff.

But in a rural location where jobs are plentiful, staff are not easy to come by.  Fortunately, over the years we have been able to rely on a dedicated team of loyal, skilled workers: some 650 of them, working shifts around the clock 365 days a year.  The pandemic puts that under threat.

The pandemic represents not just a threat to our residents but to our staff. So we have started to have employees not wanting to come to work: some for good reasons – they had covid-like symptoms or had had direct contact with a carrier – but many more because they were worried for their own health.  A cleaner with a 90 year-old father wanting to isolate to take care of him.  A pregnant administrator concerned about risk to her unborn baby.  A care worker with asthma and another with a depressed immune system.  And many more who simply want to reduce the amount of personal contact they have in their daily lives: I spent this morning fielding emails from some of our shops managers concerned about the health risks of keeping our shops chain open.

These are not groundless fears.  As an employer, I do not want to force staff to expose themselves to unnecessary risk or encourage people who may be infectious to come to work.  But if we are to take care of our clients – and that, after all, is what we are here for – we need most of our staff to do tasks which bring them up and close with the people we are looking after.  Over the past few weeks, we have increasingly introduced measures to reduce risk of transmission.  But few of our clients have ever heard the words “social distancing”, let alone understand them.  Yesterday, M launched himself at me for a hug; the day before, I was involved in clearing up G’s body fluids.

In the end, some staff will vote with their feet.  A few have already decided that the risk is too great and they should leave – not for other similar jobs, but to ride out the pandemic at home.  What with that, and the inevitable truth that some staff will get sick and have to stay away as the pandemic accelerates, there is a real risk that staffing could get tight.

But – and thank God there is a but – we know we will still manage through.  Although there are some staff who are falling away, there are many more who are throwing themselves into the challenge with renewed vigour and determination.  The other night, when I was wandering through the site at some unearthly hour – not because I was being particularly useful, you understand, but because it didn’t feel right to go home – I came across two of my senior managers doing exactly the same.  And it is not just them: on Thursday, an email pinged into my inbox from a care worker offering to come back early from maternity leave to help out.  We have had endless offers from staff at all levels to do extra shifts or work in relays if necessary.  In one of our disused older buildings, there are 60 beds just waiting in case they are needed for staff bedding down between shifts.  We haven’t used them yet, but I know that if the time comes, there will be willing bodies to fill them.

And that is just the existing staff.  But since the pandemic hit, either because thousands are losing jobs in bars and shops and in need of money, or because thousands more see what is happening and just want to lend a hand, the recruitment pages on our website are getting more and more hits.  Our HR team, itself hit hard by staffing issues, are frantically trying to process applications, train new starters and get them out there in the bungalows to help.  We are a people business.  And people are responding.

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