The role of community carer in a retirement village is a highly varied one, and might include visiting senior Australians; visiting new residents; assisting with home care; helping with medication, showers, and meals; taking people shopping; and social visits.
When COVID-19 restrictions came into place, senior Australians were identified as being vulnerable to the virus, and while the government issued guidelines for retirement villages, many residents voluntarily chose to self-isolate to protect themselves.
But the unfortunate side effect of self-isolating is social isolation, and Catherine Creevey feared many residents of Goodwin Retirement Villages would experience loneliness and anxiety as restrictions came into place.
“Normally, residents would be able to connect through the lifestyle clubhouse, which is a community hub with a cafe, daily exercise classes, excursions to national institutions, movie nights and other social activities to keep people connected,” says Catherine. “But social distancing measures made many of the regular activities impossible.”
Catherine and a team of community nurses regularly visit residents in their own homes, and she says they became concerned about the residents they visit becoming socially isolated when COVID-19 restrictions were announced.
“During lockdown, we had to take precautions to ensure we protected our clients,” she says. “I always have sanitiser in my car, disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment. The lockdown has been a little nerve-racking; the last thing we wanted was to make someone ill so we were, and are, all being really careful with our infection control procedures and using PPE [personal protective equipment].”
While Catherine and her team changed their services to protect the safety of residents in their care from the virus, they realised many residents were highly anxious about catching the virus and about losing social contact while self-isolating at home.
“We had to find new ways to keep them connected socially, whether that was teaching them to use technology such as a smartphone, or a tablet, or video calling,” says Catherine.
“When the run on toilet paper happened, my poor clients couldn’t buy it as there was none to be had. So I carried an extra roll in my car in case someone had run out. Many of my clients were very stressed about not being able to buy toilet paper. These people were very badly affected by the shortage. It wasn’t fair on them.”
Both residents and carers found new ways to stay in touch and keep up their spirits during the COVID-19 lockdown. Catherine says the community nursing team encouraged all clients to use the phone, and to keep in touch with family and friends by using video calling.
One particular client took to it like a duck to water.
“One resident who I visit is a singer,” says Catherine. “I play piano for her while she sings. We weren’t able to do that while restrictions were in place as we were minimising the number of homes we entered to reduce the risk.
“So my delightful singing resident, Yvonne Paull, found out about video calling and we tried having a music session by video call. At first we found the microphone would cut to whoever was making the loudest noise and it didn’t really work. Not put off, Yvonne thought to use FaceTime to have a musical session and that worked.”
Although there is a slight lag in the FaceTime app, when the duo gets together to sing and play, they make it work for them.
“I sit at my piano at home and she has all her music out on her music stand, and she sings from her home,” says Catherine. “It’s really great. She stays connected socially and has a great time singing, and she’s teaching me a lot about different styles of music. It’s amazing. It’s an extra stretch for the technology, and for her technology skills, but we’re both getting used to it.”
When Catherine is asked about what she likes most about her job, she says part of the role is to be sensitive and caring and make people’s day better.
“We do anything we can to make someone’s day brighter,” she says. “That’s the part of the job that’s so easy and so rewarding.”