A DEVASTATED care boss who fought a valiant battle to protect her care home from the grip of Covid has spoken of the painful “empty feeling” after 12 much-loved residents died.
Jodie Jones, manager of Fairways Newydd Nursing and Dementia Care Centre in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey has described the shattering outbreak at the home as the worst experience of her long career.
She believes the new variant of Covid-19 is likely to have been responsible for the outbreak in recent weeks, which has led to a total of 36 residents at the home testing positive along with 54 staff.
The home, which has enjoyed a renaissance since being saved from potential closure by Fairways in 2017, had taken great steps to try and prevent any outbreak of Covid and all residents had recently had their first vaccine.
Home bosses remain in the dark about how the virus broke out in the home, given the stringent measures they put in place to prevent any outbreak which had been acknowledged in inspection reports.
Mrs Jones has expressed her anguish at seeing the impact the outbreak has had at the home, which caters for residents with dementia as well as others such as the elderly.
“It is heartbreaking to lose so many residents,” she said. “All of them were very popular with staff and we are devastated to have lost each of them.
“I’ve always said it is not like working in a hospital, where patients come and go. The residents are with us for months and years
“A proper bond is built up and the residents become like family. We see them more than we do our own families.
“So, when any resident passes away it hits the staff hard. It upsets them to walk past the bedrooms and realise a resident is no longer with us.
“Our thoughts are very much with their families at this incredibly difficult time.”
Mrs Jones, 40, has spent all her adult life working in the care sector and has been at Fairways Newydd since 2017. She became manager the following year.
“This is without doubt the worst experience I have ever had in my career,” she said.
“There’s such an empty feeling. The people who live here are not just a number, they are part of our lives.
“Whenever I am interviewing staff, I always tell them that I want them to look after residents the same way they would their nain, taid, parents or any other close family member. They treat them with the care they would for their own family.
“It really has hit everybody hard. The staff are grieving for the residents we have lost.”
The home, located near Britannia Bridge, is one of five care facilities operated across North Wales by Fairways.
The company acquired the home in 2017, at a time when it was on the brink of closure.
A major refurbishment programme has taken place, along with regular praise being received for the quality of care shown towards residents.
Since then the home has won numerous awards and was honoured at the Wales Care Awards, with activities officer Pam Cuffin scooping two golds, including the prestigious Dignity in Care Award.
“We have worked so hard to strengthen the reputation of the home and then this has happened,” said Mrs Jones, who lives near Colwyn Bay.
“The last year has been extremely difficult due to the pandemic, but we have done everything we can to try and prevent an outbreak at the home.
“I have great sympathy for the families of our residents, given that lockdown has made it difficult for them to see each other and now many will be grieving their loved ones. It is devastating that this has happened.
“Never did I ever imagine working through anything like this.
“I think it is only when we come out of it that we will realise just what we have been through. When working in it you just do what needs to be done.
“Our staff have done such a tremendous job and have worked so hard throughout the pandemic. They have been absolutely heroic.”
The home has not yet received confirmation that the positive Covid tests were for the new variant of the virus.
However, Mrs Jones believes the way the home was able to successfully contend with a small Covid outbreak last year is a clear indicator that something has been different this time around.
“We dealt with this outbreak in exactly the same way as the previous one and were confident we knew what to do,” she said.
“However, the fact that this has been so different suggests it may have been the new variant.”
All residents have been isolating in their rooms since the outbreak in early January.
Inspection reports have recognised the steps taken within the home to avert any potential outbreak throughout the pandemic, with measures including the strong usage of PPE, regular temperature checks and the promotion of hand hygiene all noted.
Home bosses are defiant that the venue will continue to provide the best quality care for residents.
Mrs Jones said: “It has been a very difficult time, but we will be doing all we can to help prevent anything like this happening again in the future.
“We will keep looking after the residents, who don’t deserve anything less than the best treatment.”
Mark Bailey, owner of Fairways, has echoed Mrs Jones’s views and expressed the pain felt over the outbreak.
“I have worked in care for 33 years and this is absolutely the worst experience I’ve had,” he said. “We are devastated that so many popular residents have died.
“I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families of our residents. The staff build up close relationships with the residents and I know how upsetting this has been for everybody at the home.
“I want to stress how grateful I am to Jodie and the staff for the work they have performed throughout the pandemic. They have shown an outstanding level of dedication.
“A great deal of work has taken place to try and prevent any sort of outbreak at the home and this has been reflected in the findings of the inspection reports.
“We are doing absolutely everything we can to help ensure this will not happen again.”
A multi-agency Incident Management Team has been established following the outbreak, involving the Isle of Anglesey County Council, Public Health Wales and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
Mary Wimbury, the chief executive of Care Forum Wales, said: “Covid is a cruel and indiscriminate disease and it is absolutely heart-breaking to hear of the scale and severity of Fairway Newydd’s loss.
“I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and tenacity of staff who spared no effort in fighting this disease and continue to do everything possible to protect everyone in their care.
“Our greatest enemy is community transmission, particularly with the prevalence of the new variant of Coronavirus which accounts for between 80 and 90 per cent of new infections in North Wales.
“Sadly, the tragedy at Fairways Newydd is something we as an organisation have seen many times over at other care homes where the diligence and hard work of staff has been in vain.
“This is why we stand together with our social care providers and continue to fight for the necessary support, resources and adequate testing procedures to shield the vulnerable and save lives.”