The coronavirus outbreak has presented us all with a scenario unprecedented in our lifetimes.
A global epidemic with a fast-moving and evolving political and legal framework is not an easy environment to work in, but we are heartened by the response of our staff and local authority partners who are giving their all to support customers.
Although this situation is immensely challenging we are continuing to practically manage and deliver the vital services our customers need. We are also limiting the spread of any infection by changing our ways of working to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of our customers and staff remains our number one priority.
Riverside provide a variety of retirement living, supported housing and non-accommodation based homelessness support services to more than 9,000 people in nearly 100 local authority areas. Our social care staff are designated as key workers because it is essential that these services continue.
Our normal role sees us provide support for our retirement living customers to remain as independent as possible. And through our homelessness services we provide support to people to address issues around substance misuse, mental health, physical health and criminal offending, with the aim of successfully moving them on to longer term accommodation.
However, moving people on to longer-term accommodation at this time will be more challenging and that will cause additional pressure on Britain’s homelessness sector.
In both groups, our customers face additional risks from COVID-19 due either to their age, or because they commonly suffer from underlying conditions and are identified as high-risk.
As a result, these groups are either engaged in social distancing, or following Government guidance for those most at risk to self-isolate for 12 weeks. Where possible, services are being delivered via telephone support to protect our customers. However, as many of our customers lack supportive social networks, we are also now providing additional support to ensure they have access to food, medication, and are having their basic care needs met.
Where face-to-face contact is required, it is being done so following guidelines on social distancing to keep six feet away our customers.
However, because of the nature of our customer groups this isn’t always possible.
As such one of the biggest challenges we face is securing the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for people to do this safely, when there is already a shortage among NHS workers. Each service and context is different, and we are working proactively with local partners to identify the right responses for each service as a whole as well as an individual plan for each customer required to self-isolate.
These plans are important for ensuring that customers continue to have access to the support they need so that their basic needs can be met, either through third parties such as families, friends and local support systems, or by Riverside’s team with hundreds of our staff volunteering to step up and meet these needs if they are required. Our executive team and operational teams are holding daily COVID-19 briefing calls to ensure we are following and sharing government advice and also ensure that we are minimising any risk to our customers and colleagues. We are communicating regularly with colleagues and local authority partners to share information, resources, guidance and best practice.
Colleagues from across Riverside, who do not work in customer facing roles, are volunteering to provide additional support to qualified staff and help cover any sicknesses that will occur to ensure that services can remain open. The impact on our older customers’ emotional wellbeing from isolation is something that we are acutely aware of.
As well as a schedule of regular telephone catch ups with staff to ensure customer needs are met, we have created a volunteer led ‘Buddy’ system to fight isolation.
These buddies bring a dose of normality by engaging customers in conversation to discuss anything from the weather to who won the most recent episode of Celebrity Bake Off. None of us, including our chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, know precisely what will happen next, although we know the general direction of travel.
We are conscious that we are in the early stages of the outbreak in Britain and that tougher times are around the corner. However, given the support shown by our front-line colleagues and council partners we feel prepared and a sense of gratitude that people are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities are looked after, even in such unnerving and uncertain times.
When future generations ask how Britain coped during the coronavirus outbreak we know we can look them in the eye and say our people came together to help those most in need.
Lee Buss is director of operations at The Riverside Group