CHARM Care Home Research Study – Communication during COVID

4 care homes participated in the CHARM research project, conducting 2 mini-research projects each. This blog shares the experiences of Sanctuary Care’s Hastings Residential Care Home in Malvern, Worcestershire and their first mini-research study.

Hastings is also part of Sanctuary Group and thanks go especially to Home Manager Sue Milward, Deputy Manager Dan Reeves and Senior Care Assistant Sarah Wiggett of Sanctuary Care for their work as part of the Hastings’ Research Working Group.

Stage 1: Find out, plan and prepare

This project actually started life long before the COVID pandemic. When the care home’s research group first started thinking about what topics they would like to focus on they had loads of ideas. Something this home did a little differently though was to involve two residents in the research group very early on and they helped narrow ideas down.

During an early consultation with residents and staff the group talked about ways they could potentially improve communication in the home with both residents and loved ones.

The decision was made to focus the research on communication at Hastings through a project titled: How can we enhance communication between residents, families and staff in our home? An exploration of what’s missing and what could be implemented

A plan was then made on how to explore this topic using questionnaires for staff and visitors, interviews with staff and residents, as well as a creative consultation with residents living with dementia. The home got going very quickly, and lots of work was done to design these research tools and to complete the (successful!) ethics application so the project could go ahead.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic happened just as stage 2 was about to start! This meant the project had to be paused. When restarting 9 months later because circumstances had changed, the project needed to be rejigged a little, leading to a revised title of: “How has communication in the home been affected during the time of COVID for family members and residents and what can we learn from our approach?” You can read more about our data collection methods and ethics application in our Project Overview Document.

Stage 2: Act and make things happen

Stage 2 is all about collecting data – doing whatever you have spent stage 1 planning to do! The revision of the project enabled the care home to consider how well they had managed communication during the pandemic and what could be learned for the future. Data was gathered through questionnaires and some mini-interviews.

Relatives were given the opportunity to give anonymous feedback via a questionnaire around how they felt communication in the home had been managed during the pandemic, what had worked, what hadn’t worked and any ideas for improvements. Parallel to this, two residents participated in a short informal interview to provide their perspective and members of the management team also participated in an interview.

Stage 3: Study, watch and listen

Once all the data was gathered it was time to find out what it told the care home and what they could learn from it. With the help of the CHARM researchers-in-residence from the Association for Dementia Studies they produced descriptive statistics (numbers) from the questionnaires and summarised the key messages from the interviews under two themes “Thing to continue” and “Things to improve”.

You can read the full report of the findings here:

Stage 4: Reflect, think, discuss and change

Once the care home knew what the key findings from the study were, it was time to decide what that meant! There would be no point in doing research if you just stopped at reporting findings. The care home wrote an action plan as part of their final report. This provided the team with a useful and detailed list of things to focus on moving forward.

They shared these findings with families and visitors, staff and residents by designing a poster that you can see below. A visual way of sharing the key findings from the project. They also held a meeting with senior management to share the findings.

What did the project find?

Overall, the research highlighted that relatives felt that communication had improved since before the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020. This is an excellent achievement given the challenges of the past year and suggests that the new forms of communication methods that have been adopted in the home have really paid off. Full findings are available in the final report.

To finish off their final report, the care home research team summarised what they’d learned through the project that they wished to give to other care homes about communicating during challenging times like the pandemic. This seems like the best place to share them!

Key Pieces of Advice

  • Make staff meetings social and fun to relieve stress
  • Utilise technology to improve the experience of socially distanced visits, as well as providing virtual contact if they are ever needed again in the future
  • Empower staff to communicate little and often with relatives via email, phone etc. It does not all have to be done by management
  • Do not underestimate the power of emails to communicate with certain relatives
  • Always have a backup plan
  • In times of uncertainty, it is vital to be open and honest in communication
  • Think outside the box and give ideas a go
  • Understand that relatives’ anxiety and criticism is not necessarily from a negative place, it is borne of their worry and love for their resident

Phew! We hope this blog post has given you a taste for the amazing work Hastings and the research team put into this project. A week after this project ended, they started planning for project 2, so watch this space…

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