A care home owner has said the authorities need to learn the lessons from Spain to avoid the mass deaths of residents caused by the coronavirus.
According to Glyn Williams, who runs the Gwyddfor Residential Home in Bodedern on Anglesey, he would rather close if he can’t protect his residents and staff because of underfunding and the absence of enough personal protective equipment.
Mr Williams, a council member of Care Forum Wales which represents more than 450 independent providers, has outlined his concerns in a letter to Anglesey AM Rhun ap Iorwerth, saying care homes desperately need extra support to save lives.
The issue was brought closer to home last week with reports that two residents at the Plas Pengwaith care home in Llanberis, which is run by Gwynedd Council, had died after contracting the Covid-19 virus.
One major issue, Glyn Williams said, was that the council pays social care providers 23 per cent less than the fees they set for their own care homes.
It was “ludicrous” that the council had calculated their own standard fee weekly fee to be £760 for council-run homes compared to the £585.72 Gwyddfor receives per resident every week.
It was, he said, unfair during normal times but was making life “utterly impossible” during the current national emergency.
The other major problem was that the authorities were not supplying enough personal protective equipment (PPE).
Mr Williams has bought as much gear as he can but estimates it’s only enough for three days if they need to use it.
In his past life Mr Williams was trained by the RAF in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare and he has used his expertise to make Gwyddfor as safe as possible under the circumstances.
The home has reorganised shifts and taken on extra staff who are being trained to to help cover staff in isolation or long term shielding.
In addition, they have bought two military mess tents and used them to convert their atrium into a three-stage decontamination facility.
Mr Williams said: “We are converting our training room into a dormitory ready for when our teams need to move in.
“I am committed to paying them their normal hourly rate. We should pay these wonderful people for every hour that they are on the premises and not just a sleep in rate.
“Our staffing costs at these enhanced levels have gone astronomical, as such I have approached Anglesey Council to see if they could subsidise our residents up to our private clients standard fee instead of the totally inadequate authority funding levels.
“Anglesey Council have not been forthcoming in response to my request. It is ludicrous that the council have calculated their own standard fee to be £760 in Council owned homes, yet only fund clients at Gwyddfor £585.72 per resident per week.
“The argument used in prior years was that they have a higher staffing costs just does not stack up to me now.
“I am committed to paying my staff their normal hourly rate, plus an enhanced 10 per cent bonus rate linked to attendance and training.
“I just do not think the council have taken onboard how serious this outbreak is going to be, and that we are now on our own.
“You only have to look at Spain and the elderly residents found abandoned and dead in their beds. We have a very short space of time within which to protect the most vulnerable on Anglesey and value our staff.
“I can understand why this happened in Spain, inadequate PPE, undervalued and under-trained staff. Staff numbers decreasing. Can you imagine how scared staff must have been trying to look after and isolate wandering dementia residents’ who don’t have a clue what’s happening to them?
“I’m sure they would have got to the stage of locking them in their rooms with staff too frightened to go in. All the signs are there for us to learn from, and we’re not learning.
“Care Forum Wales have been saying that a perfect storm is brewing, it’s just turned into a Category 5 hurricane.
“I now have to think about the future viability of my business, and whether or not I can provide a safe and high standard of care. Quite frankly, I would rather close than continue at the current underfunded levels
“I served in the Royal Air Force for 25 years before moving into the care sector. I always had the resources to keep people safe and get the job done. I am respectfully asking that you now do your job and give me the resources to save lives.”
In the letter to Mr ap Iorwerth, he says: “Please do not give me a standard response about how limited funds are at the difficult time. That will simply not cut it with me, OR my 28 residents and 45 employees.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, who has revealed that care home owners feel abandoned and believes that care home residents and staff are being treated like “collateral damage”.
Mr Kreft added: “In a civilised society, we can’t allow care homes to become collateral damage otherwise more people are going to die than would otherwise be the case.
“We have waited too long, lost too much time and we need to have an urgent call to action.
“This crisis will challenge us all and we must work as one in the deepest of partnerships to ensure that as many people as possible are saved.”
Plaid Cymru have said that increased testing would help address lack of PPE in the social care sector.
Referring to a case of a high number of deaths in the same care home in Glasgow, Shadow Minister for Health Rhun ap Iorwerth said the same must be prevented from happening in Wales.
He said that he welcomed Government action to find new sources of PPE, working with industry here in Wales, but called for urgent clarification of how much equipment will be needed in coming weeks and what the plans are to deliver it.
Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “The problems relating to the delivery and accessibility of PPE in the care sector in Wales is something I’m deeply concerned about. We’re told by Government that things are in hand, but by the sector that they’re lacking in equipment and don’t know where it’ll come from.
“One care home manager told me ‘Sooner or later we will find ourselves with a resident who has Covid-19. How do I ask staff to care for that person if they don’t have protection?’
“I dread a situation like we’ve see in in Scotland where thirteen residents at a care hope tragically passed away because of Covid-19. Staff here are frightened, and they need to feel as safe as possible at work.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM also stressed the importance of increased testing: “We’ve fallen behind where we should have been regarding testing in Wales, and increasing test numbers has to be a core priority. But we also need to ensure that the value of testing in the care sector is recognised, too.”