IT was around lunchtime on Christmas Eve when staff at Carmarthenshire Council realised that a care home in the west of the county was in dire straits.
Glyn Nest residential home simply didn’t have enough staff to cover the rota that evening or Christmas Day.
“The entire management team and most of the staff had tested positive (for coronavirus),” said Jake Morgan, the council’s director of communities.
“What you effectively have is nobody to run the care home.”
The council had been in regular touch with the home, in Newcastle Emlyn, which has space for up to 30 residents, in the run-up to Christmas.
It was one of many across Carmarthenshire and Wales which was experiencing issues due to carers either testing positive or self-isolating because they were close contacts of someone else who did.
Some of the residents also had the virus.
Although not a council-run care home, the authority had a responsibility to step in.
This meant either moving the residents to other residential settings, or parachuting replacement staff in.
“There was an assessment at that point – it’s not easy to staff a residential unit,” said Mr Morgan,
“The driver was, what is the best way we can keep these people safe.”
Fortunately, a care home manager employed by the authority agreed to take charge temporarily while one of her colleagues filled in at the council home.
Mr Morgan’s team managed to find a mixture of council and agency care staff to cover the Glyn Nest rota. Not easy when the care sector is under immense strain, and during the Christmas holiday period.
“Our own care home staff stepped up massively,” said Mr Morgan.
Discussions were also held with the residents and their relatives, who were unable to visit their loved ones because of the Covid restrictions.
To add to the drama, Wales’s latest lockdown had been brought forward to start on Christmas Eve.
Mr Morgan said the majority view from residents and relatives was that they wanted to stay at Glyn Nest.
He stressed that the crisis was not the fault of the baptist home, or that there were problems with infection control.
“I have enormous sympathy for family members in this position,” said Mr Morgan.
“Lots of our staff are in the same position with their relatives. It provokes high anxiety.”
Another saving grace was district nurses employed by Hywel Dda University Health Board stepping in to administer medication and provide other medical support at Glyn Nest over Christmas.
Mr Morgan said the council has agreed with the trustees of the home to run it until the end of January, although he hopes the authority will be able to hand back the reins before then.
The trustees who run Glyn Nest care home confirmed a number of staff and residents tested positive for Covid-19 shortly before Christmas.
They said the situation deteriorated, resulting in the managing committee asking Carmarthenshire Council to take over the running of the home in the short to medium term.
The chairman of the management committee, the Reverend Irfon Roberts, said: “We are extremely grateful to Carmarthenshire Council and the temporary staff for their work over the past weeks.
“Our hope and intention is that the responsibility for the home will be transferred back to us at the end of January. Our priority throughout has been to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents.”
Glyn Nest is one of 10 homes in Carmarthenshire which has required council intervention in recent weeks, but the only one to be taken over.
Currently there are 34 care homes in the county with Covid-19 cases, or unable to take placements as they recover from an outbreak.
Domiciliary care is also affected by staff shortages, so much so that the authority is currently only able to deliver essential care.
It is a similar picture in neighbouring Swansea, where warnings were sounded last month that residents in three care homes were close to having to be moved en masse into hospital because of a carer shortage.
Mr Morgan has served as director for nearly 10 years, and said that before Covid he had only envisaged the council intervening to this extent if a care home experienced a major financial problem.
“Nobody has dealt with circumstances and volatility like this,” he said.
The unscheduled takeover of Glyn Nest meant social services officers making daily phone calls and assessments during the festive period.
“I have a group of commissioning officers, which doesn’t sound like a very glamorous title, who were working every day over Christmas – eight or 10 hours – putting together plans and rotas,” said Mr Morgan.
Staff from Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) provided input during “escalation meetings”, he said.
Mr Morgan said the crisis had fostered close working relationships with the health board, which reported its highest weekly Covid death roll in the week ending December 25, and neighbouring councils.
“At one point Pembrokeshire gave us some agency staff,” he said.
Mr Morgan said care home staff and residents were starting to get vaccinated.
He expected this to ramp up with the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I think the next five or six weeks it’s going to remain a difficult position,” he said.
Glyn Nest care home was praised by CIW inspectors when they visited in 2018.
They said a varied programme of activities was laid on for residents, some of whom had dementia.
Religious services were provided. Recruitment and staffing procedures were “robust”, and the manager was competent.
The CIW inspection report said: “We conclude that people can be assured their healthcare needs will be supported and met promptly and appropriately.”
The Local Democracy Report Service contacted the trustees of Glyn Nest, but no-one responded at the time of going to press.
Cllr Rob James, Carmarthenshire Labour Leader stated “I am pleased to see that the local authority has stepped in to support Glyn Nest who are experiencing issues currently.
“We have known for some time that independent care homes across Carmarthenshire have been vulnerable during the pandemic, with some struggling to ensure that they had enough staff to provide the support needed.
“For a number of years, Carmarthenshire Labour have been calling for a recruitment drive to increase the number of care workers internally and create an in-house bank system to ensure that we are not over reliant on agency companies. It is essential that going forward the local authority increase their capacity to support other homes that may experience issues in the future.”