How care home at centre of TV investigation was turned around

By 10th June, 2016 News Comments Off

The care home exposed by Panorama two years ago for its poor care has won an award for its leadership after introducing a policy based on kindness, comfort and respect.

Article originally posted on The Guardian’s Social Care Network:

“I feel that I couldn’t be in a better place,”  says Brenda Boley, a resident of the New Deanery care home near Braintree, Essex. “I mean nobody wants to be in a home, you’d rather be in your own home, but when that isn’t possible … at the moment I couldn’t even think of going anywhere else.”

This is testimony that any care home could be proud of. But it is even more striking given that two years ago, the care home in question was the subject of an undercover Panorama investigation into poor care. In the programme, broadcast in April 2014, care workers at the home (then called the Old Deanery) were seen slapping and harassing residents. Three workers were subsequently jailed for the abuse and the home was put into special measures by Essex county council.

Just two years on and the home has received an award from sector skills body Skills for Care for its approach to leadership and management. An inspection by the Care Quality Commission last year rated the home as requiring improvement, but found the service to be caring.

It concluded: “The service had implemented a number of systems to improve, monitor and maintain quality of all of its provision. Some work was still needed in this.”

The home is awaiting the outcome of a more recent inspection, and is hopeful it can match the performance of St Mary’s Court in Essex – also owned by Sonnet – which is rated good overall, with outstanding leadership.

There was something about the culture that meant people who were not acting in a caring way were allowed to continue

Julia Clinton, CEO, Sonnet

So how was the home turned around?

The New Deanery was bought by Sonnet Care Homes in late 2013. At this point, an undercover reporter from Panorama had already been at the home for several months. Early in 2014, “We had a letter from Panorama, 14 pages long with lots and lots of allegations in it,” says Julia Clinton, chief executive of Sonnet. Nine staff were suspended, and then dismissed when the programme aired and the allegations were proved. And then Sonnet went into improvement mode.

“What became quickly apparent to us was that whilst the incidents that were on the Panorama programme were the most serious examples of where things weren’t going as they should … there was a culture within the home that allowed that to happen,” says Clinton.

The owners took a few weeks getting to know staff and residents before creating an improvement plan. Clinton stresses that there were “lots of really good staff working here, really caring”, before the abuse came to light. “But there was something about the culture that meant people who were not acting in a caring way were allowed to continue to behave in that way.”

Clinton and chief finance officer Jo Moore sat down to work out a plan. One key thing they wanted to change was an overcomplicated management structure, which led to lots of layers between frontline staff and bosses, and meant care workers were reluctant to approach managers. “We made it our personal mission to get to know people,” says Clinton.

Jane Sadowski, the registered manager, lives on site, which has aided management visibility. The leadership team tries to lead by example: “If you came at the right time you’d see Julia cleaning the toilets or Jo sitting with a resident with dementia going through a story book,” says Sadowski.

The biggest change has been through the home’s model of what good care is: the acronym KCR, meaning kindness, comfort and respect, was introduced in July 2014. “We said if we’re going to get everybody working in the same way and we’re going to really drive through … how we do things around here, unite everybody, we need to call it something,” says Clinton. “And it’s not just about how we treat the residents, it’s about how we treat each other as well.”

On a walk around the spacious, light home, reminders for KCR can be found everywhere, on noticeboards and in the books of “KCR stars” dotted around on tables. These are awards, given once a month, to a staff member or resident who has exemplified the values of KCR.

Sadowski says that, after Panorama “there was a fear of everyone being under a cloud of suspicion”. So while there is a strong emphasis put on whistleblowing, and staff are encouraged to report anything untoward, the stars are intended to praise exceptional care and reinforce what that looks like. “It’s the person that stays an hour after their shift reading a book with a resident just because it’s a kind thing to do,” says Clinton.

It’s a lovely place to work. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else

Allison Horley, The New Deanery

The stars were suggested by the KCR volunteers group at the home, a forum of staff members who communicate with management and highlight things that could be improved. “For the staff to be part of the decision-making and for them to feel they’re valued is just so vital,” says Sadowski. There is also a weekly residents’ forum, where people can bring up any issues, and management run any changes by residents. This communication is vital – as Sadowski says: “It’s their home.”

The biggest impact of these changes has been on the people who live in the home. Gillian Lee is the daughter of Joan Maddison, whose abuse by care workers was featured in the Panorama programme. Lee says it has been a journey “between how it was then to how it is now” and talks about how hard the leadership team have had to work. “They’re not perfect, we haven’t got the most 100%, totally without any issues situation here,” she says.

“But what we have got is a turnaround on the ethics and the mindset and the desire to make it right, the desire to focus on individuals and make sure those individuals are supported as a person, whatever their needs may be.”

Care worker Allison Horley has worked at the New Deanery since before the Panorama programme was aired, and says everything is very different now. The home had more residents with high-dependent needs at the time of the programme and, in late 2014, the leadership made the decision to not admit any more residents in order to make improvements.

The home now has 40 residents, with a capacity of 80, and one care worker for every four residents, which allows staff to spend quality time with them. “We all spend loads of time with the residents, just walking round the garden, just sitting having a chat or tea and coffee,” says Horley. And when asked whether she likes working at the home, she is on the edge of tears: “It’s a lovely place to work. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”