Update on the CHARM project – put on hold due to COVID-19

CHARM logo

Here at the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS), we’re working on the CHARM (Care Home Action Researcher-in-residence Model) research project. It’s funded for a year by the Alzheimer’s Society and the Dunhill Medical Trust and aims to help care homes become ‘research-ready’; to understand how evidence-based practice can be developed and implemented. We work closely with four care homes each from different provider organisations (Care UK, Hallmark Care Homes, Sanctuary Care and Assured Healthcare Solutions) to help them choose, design, carry out and share their own research projects. It’s all done in-house by staff, residents and visitors, with help from two “Researchers in Residence” from ADS.

The four care homes did brilliantly well in their first 6 months and it’s been a fun and fascinating journey for all. In particular, it’s been a real challenge for us researchers; testing our research knowledge and making us think on our feet at every visit. In that respect, COVID-19 was just another challenge we needed to find a way around! As a team, we’re very familiar with working in care homes and so we knew early on that COVID-19 would create a lot of stress and challenges for the care homes and we were determined that CHARM would not add to that pressure. At our 3rd of 5 whole group training days at the beginning of March 2020 we agreed a contingency plan with our care homes, which meant it was ready to go as soon as we were no longer able visit and when they needed to suspend their research projects to focus on their core care home work.

The CHARM group sat round a table
The CHARM group at their training day (before social distancing!)

Initially as care homes became more aware of the worsening COVID-19 situation, we lightened our demands on them and planned online and telephone ways of keeping in contact to make sure the co-researchers were supported. We asked each home what was the best way to do this, then acted accordingly. Once full lockdown began, we started working from home developing a CHARM manual to support future care homes who want to do their own research. It will be packed full of the lessons we’ve learnt so far and sage advice from our care homes. It was something we had planned to do at the end of the project, but the care homes thought it was a good thing to do now so that they could trial it for us when the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted. This will make the project outcomes even better as they will be grounded in care home co-researchers’ real-life experiences. We’re definitely missing visiting the care homes, but at the same time it’s a luxury to be able to devote time to develop the manual. If our project had not been suspended, we planned to draft the outlines of our final reports and publication materials ahead of time too, ready to drop findings into.

The care homes agreed they all wanted to suspend their projects until after the outbreak. We’ve stayed in touch with them, letting them know we’re thinking of them and how much we value the work they do and to reassure them that we’ll be ready and waiting to resume the CHARM research projects once we’re all the other side of the pandemic. (We also sent cookies – the importance of snacks for care home co-researchers is definitely an early finding from our project!). The time spent building and maintaining relationships with the homes is likely to be key to our project’s success.  Meanwhile as a team of university researchers, we have maintained 30 minute catch-ups twice weekly with each other to manage our revised approach to work on the project and to adapt our contingency planning,

With the work on the manual complete and knowing we want enough time with the care homes once they restart, we have now paused the project officially and sought a 12 month no-cost extension. This means one ADS researcher has been able to be furloughed, whilst the project manager will work on other commitments until the project starts back up in October 2020. We have already planned our likely approach for resuming the project and have agreed our principles for restarting CHARM in the right way and at the right time for our care homes:

When we restart, we will be:

  • Flexible: each care home will probably need to restart at a different time, depending on how they have been affected by the pandemic. We want to be able to support this rather than making people wait too long or restart too soon.
  • Responsive: each care home will likely need to restart in different ways – getting straight back on to their in-house research projects, or much more slowly. We want to be able to react to these different circumstances.
  • Realistic: Arranging a longer extension than we actually need will help us tailor our approach to each home’s needs. It is impossible now to predict how long fieldwork will be paused for or when care homes will be fit to continue. If the project can be finished quicker than the extension allowed, it will be.
  • Supportive: this situation will have been traumatic for some individuals and care homes, depending on how the pandemic affected their home and personal situations. We want to be a source of support for them now and when we return, rather than overly-focussed on getting the project “done”. 
  • Community: the four CHARM care home teams had got to know each other well through sharing their research journeys at our team days. We want to be able to continue and strengthen this community. We are planning an extra virtual team day (once the pressure has eased) where people can share their experiences and feelings about getting re-engaged with CHARM. 
  • Useful: One of the reasons we were so keen to do the CHARM project is because we know how much ‘hidden’ expertise exists in care homes. We’re hoping that CHARM can be a good vehicle for the care homes to reflect on, share and celebrate the innovative practice they’ve all been doing during the pandemic.

CHARM will now continue from October 1st 2020. For further information contact Dr Isabelle Latham on i.latham@worc.ac.uk

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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