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Supporting others through loss


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    Sharon Allen

Providing a good death, a good end of life, is a key function of the hospice movement. Working with and supporting colleagues across the health and care system are key parts of our role as a community provider.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an extremely challenging time for those of us who work in the care and nursing care home sector, with unprecedented numbers of deaths, shortages of personal protective equipment, issues around testing, among the challenges we’ve faced. I think one of the most difficult things has been dealing with the higher than usual rates of death that have occurred, particularly in some care homes, where residents are considered as family members by the staff they've lived with, worked alongside and loved for many years. There are feelings of loss, as well as shock and anxiety, at a time when, sadly, loved ones and family members have not been able to be there at the end of a person’s life which is such an important part of the grieving process.

Supporting local partners

Early in the pandemic, our local clinical commissioning group contacted us and asked if we would be willing to support some of the local care providers who had had very difficult experiences. We were very pleased to do so. We had meetings with colleagues in care homes both face to face – obviously with all the appropriate safety precautions – and digitally to provide reassurance, comfort, information and advice, and support as they dealt with their grief and loss.

We also provided a toolkit of easy-to-access information because in times of pressure and continual change it needs to be easy for people to find where to go for a specific piece of advice. For example, how to provide difficult news over the telephone when that's not your normal practice, your normal way of doing things.

We’ve also supported care and nursing homes through the newly formed Cambridgeshire Care Provider Alliance by taking part in weekly Zoom calls, sharing experiences, providing reassurance, providing information and connecting people. The relationships being formed are so critical and we must make sure that we nurture and harness those relationships for our future ways of working.

2020 is the year of the nurse and midwife and I am so proud of my nursing colleagues here in the hospice, and indeed of all my colleagues. Our nurses who have reached out to support nurses and health care assistants and support workers in the care and nursing homes who are doing a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances.

What can leaders do when faced with unprecedented challenge?

  • Reach out – leaders have experience, knowledge and skills that will be useful to each other. As we connect, we find out how we can best support and learn from each other.

  • Keep it simple – clarity is important at a time of information overload. The toolkit is a good example of a simple offer that made a big difference. It didn’t need to go through layers of bureaucracy, it didn’t cost anything other than colleagues’ time, it’s clear and easy to use. We’ve had positive feedback about the clarity of the document at a time when people were being deluged with information.

  • Be willing to flex – listen carefully and be ready to adapt your ideas or offers of help to meet people’s needs, which may change over time.

  • Build relationships – to create long-term, sustainable change, we need to develop relationships of trust between all parties. This takes time and investment, and is worth it.

Leading through Covid-19

Short resources and shared experiences to offer some help in supporting leaders working in the NHS, social care, public health, local authorities and the voluntary and independent sector.

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