Staffing challenges which have affected care homes in recent years are getting even worse at a time of unprecedented demand for places.
Last summer, the President of the Committee for Health & Social Care, Deputy Al Brouard, took the unusual step of publicly issuing a plea for qualified carers to contact the States about working in the sector.
At the time, Deputy Brouard said: “It is becoming more and more challenging to meet the increasing and unprecedented demand for community care."
But since then, the impact of Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic, together with worsening difficulties in the housing market, have combined to make it even harder to recruit and retain staff in the care homes sector - especially unqualified staff, who are key to keeping homes running.
Cathy Bailey, who chairs the Guernsey Care Managers' Association, told Express that the challenges are "definitely getting worse".
"We all have a number of staff who are thinking about leaving Guernsey because their landlords are suddenly putting the rent up and they can’t afford to stay,” said Ms Bailey.
Pictured: Cathy Bailey is Director of Summerland Care Home, which has 78 staff.
The impact of Guernsey’s ageing population profile is rarely out of the news these days. It is already felt acutely in numerous ways at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital.
Giffard Ward has been assigned to people waiting for beds in care homes or community care packages. And the waiting list for care homes continues to increase.
Express met with Ms Bailey again – who represents, through the GCCA, nearly all private care homes in the island; a year on, to find out how they’re coping.
“A few years ago, we did have empty beds, but for the last two years we’ve had extraordinary waiting lists,” said Ms Bailey, who, through the Association, has a role representing nearly all private care homes in the island.
Despite lengthening waiting lists, many homes cannot fill all their places for residents because of staff shortages.
“The difficulty is that we have to provide safe staffing levels in order to be able to look after people - there are several places keeping some of their beds empty for that reason."
Pictured: The Guernsey Care Managers' Association meets regularly to discuss issues facing the industry.
Private care homes are looking for kitchen staff, maintenance staff and unqualified carers to work alongside registered nurses.
However, few people locally are moving into the sector and hiring from outside the island presents multiple challenges, including the cost of visas and housing licences and lack of rental properties. Last year, Ms Bailey said these things were already causing a "crisis in the community".
On revisiting the issue with Ms Bailey this week, it’s clear that housing remains one of the biggest barriers to hiring and retaining staff.
“We’ve had staff members who have been renting for years and suddenly their landlords want to sell,” she said.
“It's a problem in the registered workforce too. At the moment, we don’t have a problem recruiting registered nurses, but that can change in a heartbeat.”
Pictured: Cathy Bailey says that working in a care home is a very fulfilling experience.
Lack of staff and other challenges mean that not all beds can be allocated, which can be difficult for prospective residents and their families to understand.
“People think that if you’ve got a vacancy then a person can move into the room, but none of us are working in purpose-built buildings. They’re adapted buildings and sometimes the beds that become available are not suitable for certain individuals.
“Just because you have an empty room doesn’t mean you can take someone in and I think people struggle with that. They tend to think there’s a bed, but we have to assess the person to ensure it’s the right environment for them.
“None of us want to have empty beds, that’s not good for business, but we have to provide safe care.”
Ms Bailey said the industry remains optimistic, but if current trends continue more homes could be expected to close at a time when demand is projected to increase.
“If nothing changes, and people can’t recruit, care homes will ultimately close. If they can’t be staffed, people will have no alternative.
“There have been smaller homes that have closed over recent years because of that reason.
“Even a small home closing has massive ripples across the community. Even if a small home closed and those additional people need to be found accommodation, it’s a real headache for the Committee for Health & Social Care."
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