Perspex screens installed in the homes’ entrance ways are enabling families and residents to see and talk to each other in close physical proximity for the first time since lockdown began three months ago.
While conforming to all public health guidance, it’s a safe way to bring people together without the risk of transmitting the virus.
The first reunion was at Colten’s Canford Chase home in Poole between resident Brenda Dyer and her daughter Beverley Darbyshire.
Like other families, their only means of communication since March has been on the phone, in video calls and through emails and letters.
“The visit was brilliant,” said Beverley. “It has been wonderful to talk to her on the phone and on the iPad but there’s nothing like actually being able to look into her eyes.
“You always worry in the back of your mind that she’s not as good as she says she is but when you are face to face that connection’s there again and you know she is telling you the truth that she’s fine.
“I absolutely get why the screen is there. It was wonderful to see her so close and yet know that she was safe and I was safe, and neither of us was putting anyone else at risk. I am really thrilled that I’ve been able to see her.”
Brenda said: “It was a real morale boost. It makes me feel a lot more optimistic that I may be able to see more of my family over the coming months.”
Canford Chase Home Manager Charlotte Wilson said: “We’ve done amazingly well so far with social distancing, PPE, testing and controls on admissions and visits.
“Now, we’re delighted to have been able to introduce this new safe visiting solution and see our residents and relatives reconnecting. It’s heartwarming.”
Across the 21 homes, relatives and friends book half-hour time slots for the visits so that everyone has a fair opportunity to share in the new protocol. Visitors are also guided through a full safety procedure including pre-visit checks.
There was an extra special reason to celebrate the first reunion at Amberwood House in Ferndown.
It gave resident Gladys Blythe, known as Joan, the chance to celebrate her 72nd wedding anniversary with visiting husband Peter.
Before lockdown, Peter had visited on a daily basis, with the pair also phoning each other three or four times a day.
Peter said: “This has been the longest time we have been apart since we got married in June 1948. It has been difficult, and it was so lovely to see her again. It was emotional looking at each other. I hope I will be able to come again soon.”
Eleanor Abrams, Amberwood House Home Manager, said: “It was heartbreaking that Peter’s visits had to stop because of lockdown and it was so emotional that they were able to see each other again, especially on their anniversary.
“Joan was rather nervous beforehand, she said it was like preparing for walking down the aisle again.
“For all our residents, it has been a time of excitement. Some have been a little nervous about how the visits would work but after they’ve seen their loved ones again they’ve been so happy. It’s just lovely.”
Spirits have been similarly lifted at Newstone House in Sturminster Newton.
After visiting her mum Rosemary for the first time in lockdown, Jenny Cottrell said: “There was a pang of emotion that you can’t have a big hug because that’s what you want to do and that’s what the residents need but the screen worked well and it was absolutely delightful.
“It’s a sign that things are getting better.”
Elaine Farrer, Colten Care Operations Director, said: “Everything we do is centred around the wellbeing of our residents and their families.
“That’s why, as soon as we felt it was safe to do so, we worked with our in-house team to create this innovative solution to enable safe visiting.
“It’s not the same as actually meeting as usual but at least you can see and talk to each other while being physically together, unlike Skype or Zoom.
“Our teams have managed the lockdown restrictions brilliantly. We are so proud of all they have achieved to date, but they fully appreciate just how much residents have been missing visits from their families and friends.
“The new safe visiting protocol looks to be a great success already, giving residents and staff a huge boost.”
Canford Chase, Amberwood House and Newstone House are all rated Outstanding by the care sector regulator the Care Quality Commission.
They are among seven Colten Care homes to achieve the top ranking, putting them in the elite of care homes nationally.