Jenni with quote

When Covid means your team is only you (and you are new)

You and I can only imagine what a challenge it must be to run a home during a Covid outbreak, but what if you are the only one left standing- and new too?

Although Jenni isn’t strictly new to care, or even support work, or Discovery, she had only been in her current post for a month when a Covid outbreak struck. Let’s meet Jenni.

Hi Jenni, can we start with a bit of background, please?

14 years ago, I started working in older people’s care. I went from carer to shift leader, then to night care supervisor, but it became “conveyor belt care” due to time limits, and I struggled because I believe in person-centred care, and there wasn’t any time for it.

So I moved to agency and had a few shifts with autistic individuals and people with learning disabilities. I wished I had done it a lot sooner, which seemed crazy because the sector scared me, if I am honest.

I’d come across dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. But I’d never come across autism or learning disabilities. However, I fell head over heels in love with it because it is so person-centred. You do things at their pace. There is no “I still got to get 31 people up.”

I loved that there was time to build relationships with the people we support (and colleagues too)! So when a role came up for a support worker in Discovery, I went for it, whilst (needlessly) worrying that I didn’t have enough experience – a month later, I was in post.

That was February 2019.

February is an excellent month for new starts in my life! History repeats itself! I was in at the deep end in 2019, too, because the manager was ill and decided to leave, but I am a hands-on learner, and I quickly found my way.

Where did you excel?

A few medication errors were happening when I started, like missing signatures, so nothing that would cause any harm, but still things that needed improving. I had a lot of experience with medication, so I upskilled the staff, and within the first month, we’d gone from more meds errors than I care to remember to hardly any.

And what was a challenge?

Dealing with people’s finances because we don’t deal with finances in older people’s care – but you don’t do it on your own. Plus, a lot of the staff, although very good at what they’re doing, had got stuck in a routine whereas I couldn’t help but question or challenge it with questions like:

“So why don’t we try it this way?” and “Have we tried it that way? If we haven’t, why haven’t we?” even though that was a challenge, the team were great to work with and receptive.

Also, although I always try to be forward-thinking, I had a brain injury at 18 months old, I’m still partially deaf and sighted and one day, we hit the issue that one of the people we support was having “distressed behaviour”. I say in inverted commas because if there is distress, then there is a trigger, and it is down to us to find it and make it better.

One of the things I love so much about working with autistic people and the learning disabled, the psychological and behavioural aspect, it makes it so much more involved, interesting and rewarding.

However, because of my brain injury my manager felt it would be safer for me in a supported living environment and I ended up getting transferred to another home for my protection, but I didn’t want to go because of the reason above. I was devastated. It took me a while to get my head around it. I felt such a big part of the place, I was so driven to do one thing to make their lives better every day.

So over I went over to supported living, where the people we support are much more capable of making their needs known, which turned out to be an exciting change. We were going out and doing stuff nearly every day. In my days, they had the day centres, so this was all completely new to me. I was there for quite a while. Then I took a break because my mental health crashed. So I went back to older people’s care but as soon as I did, I was like, “Oh, my God, what are you doing?”

I heard my old manager Di Trigger had moved services, so I messaged her and asked if she had any vacancies, and she did, for lead support worker! Again, right up my street, but once again, I convinced myself I wouldn’t get it because I’d only ever been a support worker, never a lead, and although I’ve been a supervisor that was in older people’s care – a different thing altogether.

There was a Performance Coach and Di at my interview, so I knew if I got the job, it was because I did a good interview and not just because I had worked with Di before, which I did, and that takes us up to February 2022.

At first, it was daunting. The people we support have a much higher level of needs and profound multiple learning disabilities, which I hadn’t encountered. Plus, I was walking into a well-established team as a complete newbie and as the lead.

The assistant manager was leaving, but she got stuck in with me before she did. She was excellent, and I got shadowing right away. Also, we had many great colleagues who knew the people we support well. It was so lovely to see everybody pulling together. However, soon after the assistant manager left, one of the people we support didn’t look well.

In the morning, he appeared okay; he’d had his meds and drunk, but something was off. By the afternoon, he started going yellow, and his lips went blue. So I asked a colleague to ring an ambulance whilst I took his observations so that when the ambulance got here, they were ready, along with his support plan.

He tested positive for COVID?

Yup, and the next day two staff went down with it, then my manager and all five of the people we support. So, in the end, I was the only one left standing.

I was in a bit of a panic, thinking, how am I going to do this? I don’t know these guys well enough. But I kept telling myself it was going to be okay.

I had a capable agency member emergency medication trained which took a bit of pressure off because it meant we could split the medication between us, and I wasn’t bombing around trying to do 110 things. As let’s be honest. That’s when mistakes happen.

What upset me the most was that I had to work as I had in older people’s care because we didn’t have enough fit team members to be person-centred and I beat myself up for missing loads of paperwork, I stopped looking at the bigger picture. Still, Cath Lowe, our Operations Director, reassured me that the people we support come first, and paperwork could wait.

How did you do it?

I kept in contact with Cath all the way through, she is just fantastic. Management were doing everything they could to get me the cover. In the end, we borrowed people from other homes, and on Saturday afternoon Cath sent somebody turned up at the door with a big bunch of flowers!

The feedback and support have been fantastic. I know the managers appreciate me, from receiving flowers to inspiring people nominations.

When my manager Di returned, she reiterated how amazingly well I had done running a home I was new to single-handedly!

Another touching thing was when my team came back, they said, “We’ve spoken to Cath, you’re going home, and you are not working tomorrow or Wednesday. If you come anywhere near where there’s going to be trouble! “

I have missed my team! But now we are stronger for it, as am I! It was a really good learning curve!
No more self –sabotaging not good enough thoughts!

With special thanks to Jenni, for sharing her story with us.

If you know of an inspiring person that works for Discovery, take a moment to nominate them here, because they are worth it.

If you don’t yet work with us, but feel inspired to explore the possibility further, you can do so here.