I was both delighted and honoured to be asked by the team at VIEWdigital if I would be the guest editor for this edition of the magazine.
I am a passionate campaigner for safe and dignified care across the care home sector in Northern Ireland.
When Covid-19 was declared a pandemic I immediately knew that care homes would be a very problematic area. I was instantly worried about how the care homes would be supported and governed during the pandemic, and, potentially, this would have poor outcomes for the many thousands of older people that call them “home”.
I have been shocked by the 1,000 plus deaths of care home residents involving Covid-19.
Almost instantly we were contacted by families concerned after some care homes started to close their doors and ban visiting. This was accepted initially by families who were keen to protect loved ones but as the weeks and months rolled on, and window visits ceased, virtual visits weren’t being offered, and more and more providers weren’t engaging with families, we knew things were not good.
And that by denying older people those connections we would see a decline in health, well-being and cognitive ability. Access to visits has been the main area of work for CHASNI over the last year.
After our grandmother, ‘Granny Annie’, was neglected at a care home in 2016, I, along with other families, reached out to many statutory and voluntary organisations to seek support in addressing our serious concerns about the standards of care and support for our relatives. We were on a ‘merry-go-round’ with no-one listening to our concerns.
We formed ourselves into an action group that led to the Commissioner for Older People (COPNI) listening to our concerns and this led to the Home Truths report. Since that time we have continued to receive contacts from families about their relatives’ situations.
This led me to look at setting up a voluntary organisation working alongside the care home sector and statutory organisations.
In his foreword to Home Truths, Eddie Lynch, the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, said: “The report is entitled Home Truths as it is my view that the investigation has uncovered the heart-breaking reality of the lived experience of the residents of Dunmurry Manor since it opened in 2014. It is essential that the quality of care provided to older people living in care homes across Northern Ireland is maintained at a high level. These are some of our most vulnerable older people and it is inexcusable for standards to drop to levels that can put their well-being at risk.
“It is vital that all the organisations responsible for providing care respond swiftly to the findings in this report to assure the public that it can trust in the care being provided to tens of thousands of older people across Northern Ireland.”
For almost five years we have been supporting families that reach out for support when it comes to anything related to care homes. It has been a pleasure to empower them and to give them knowledge, and help them in any way that we can. My personal journey with Granny Annie is what put me on this path and has allowed me to meet and support wonderful people and their families.
These families have remained part of CHASNI as volunteers. They continue to support others that find themselves in similar situations. And so CHASNI was born.
In creating CHASNI we are creating a vehicle to work alongside the statutory organisations to fulfil COPNI’s recommendations. The volunteers working with CHASNI all have wide-ranging experiences when their relatives moved into a care home and many serious issues whilst they were living in a care home.
The work is not just about care homes but trying to improve all the systems around care homes, and recognising the rights of older people, listening to them and hearing the voices of families on their behalf. We also know the rising population of older people means that more people may need care and support.
CHASNI will ensure that older people and their families considering a move to a care home has:
• Access to person-centred support and advocacy at crucial times including when moving into a care home or making a decision on a care home.
• Proper and open communication.
• An understanding of how care homes are financed and their contributions.
• Clear signposts and support with the complaints system.
• Familiarity with the safeguarding system and how it works.
• Knowledge and access to the organisations and people that are part of the system to support them.
• Support from families and people with experience of the system.
• Recognise and respect older people’s rights to remain in their own homes and look at improving the range of services available to older people to support this.
• Re-establishing the profile of older people and ensure all rights are at the centre of all decisions made.
We look forward to the future and embedding CHASNI as an organisation that gives a voice to older people and their families.