Ever been in one of those situations, be it a social one, or some other kind where you are meeting new people … and after the weather, marriage status and a few other small talk topics, the big one of ‘what do you do for work’ comes up …?
Yeah? Me too …
Ever been in the situation, where you asked the question first … ‘So, what is it you do …?’. And the responses vary. ‘I’m a teacher/doctor/lawyer/estate agent/youth worker/fireman (the list could go on) … what about you, what do you do?’.
There, theres ‘that’ moment … the moment where they ask the question back. So you squirm, stutter a bit and whisper out ‘Well, erm, I’m just a care assistant in a nursing home”
Ever been you? Maybe or maybe not … I don’t always know who reads this blog, so therefor I don’t know what kind of job roles are covered by us all but I’m pretty sure we’re not all Care Assistants.
In fact, as I write this now, I am currently not a ‘Care Assistant’ although I still work within the care/nursing home care system as an Activities/Pastoral Co-ordinator. I have however, for the last 5 years been a Care Assistant, and before I went to live in London for the time I was there, I also was involved in care (with adults with Learning Disabilities).
When I worked as a Care Assistant, I held the view that all I was was ‘JUST’ a carer. As I said above, it is what I would mutter to people when asked what I did. And the responses I got would vary. Mostly the responses were ones that made you realise people did not really understand what the job you did entailed. And also, you would get the impression it didnt hold much in their eyes. After all, in general terms, thats what society see’s you as … ‘JUST a care assistant’. In fact, more often or not (I will point out here before everyone jumps on me and says I am being stereotypical, there are some exceptions, a few) it is what even alot of Managers/Care Home owners/top people of the big corporate companies who own alot of homes around the country, think of their staff. They are ‘just’ the care assistants. Its is fair to say that working conditions and pay certainly reflect that attitude.
However, as I climbed the ladder slightly, and became a Senior Care Leader and part of the Senior Care Management Team I began to feel the responsibility of building up my staff seriously. Having been in their shoes, having worked the floor, having done the shifts they do, and having dealt with the things they do on a daily basis, I KNEW they were not ‘JUST’ anything. They were and are not ‘JUST’ Care Assistants. I didn’t want my staff doing what I did. Seeing them selves as ‘Just’ this … because they were and are more than that. They ARE Care Assistants. They assist people with their care. What a huge thing to do?!
They are the people who turn up to work their shift early in the morning, in the middle of the day, and late at night. They are the people who through the night, through the bank holidays, through special days such as Christmas and Easter (without so much as an extra bonus/or extra pay for doing so).
They are the people who work often in crap conditions, with crap pay – most Care Assistants earn no more than the minimum wage all year round. No pension. No sick pay (except for Stat Sick Pay) – (I’d like to point out at this point, that I am talking about Care Assistants who work for the Private Healthcare Companies that own most of the Nursing Homes/Care Homes in this country). I’m sure/know people who work for other national organisations and complain about its conditions/pay/pensions etc, but I see them as lucky for being paid above min wage, for having a pension and for getting paid if sick)
Care Assistants are the people who often drop what ever it is they are doing on their day off to go into work when they get the phone call.
Care Assistants are the people that the residents/patients see first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.
They are the people who assist people who need it, in their every living need. From getting out of bed in the morning, often using heavy equipment (if accessible) for those who need it, to holding hands with the person who needs gentle encouragement to get up.
They are the people who assist said residents/patients in getting washed. Top to toe, including assisting them to the bathroom or with their personal hygiene needs. They are the people who comb hair, brush teeth/dentures and put them in, shave the men (with either an electric razor or a wet shave!), assist ladies in putting on their lipstick, do up buttons of shirts, get out matching clothes for the resident/patient, make beds, ensure rooms are tidy. They are the people who ensure the patient/resident is well dressed, clean, tidy and comfortable/settled and happy.
Care Assistants are the people who do that very thing for multiple people in the space of a very short time, whilst still trying to make it person centred, focussed on the individual and not rushing, despite the fact they know they have x amount of other residents to also get up/assist with all the above before breakfast.
They are the people who still have to carry out the same role and duties whether they have the correct amount of staff on, or whether they are short staffed which is often the case.
Then comes breakfast. Care Assistants are the people who assist those who cannot eat and drink by them selves to eat and drink. (This includes breakfast but also mid morning drinks/snacks, lunch, mid afternoon snacks/drinks, tea, and evening snacks and drinks. And if they are not assisting a resident to actually eat or drink then they are taking out the trolleys and trays to other residents who can eat and drink themselves but who need their meals/drinks taking to them wherever they are, be it the dining room, lounge or their bedrooms.)
After breakfast Care Assistants are the people who then continue to assist multiple people to get up … right up until lunch time. Some people choose to get up late. Some stay in bed all the time, and so are assisted with personal cares throughout the morning.
During the time between breakfast and lunch, as well as continuing to get residents up/washed/dressed/cared for personally, they are also making beds, making sure things are tidy, and trying to carry out the ‘bath’ rota. This means thats each and every resident is assisted in having a bath. On a regular basis. Some are residents who can go in a bath, with the aid of hoists, and some need to be ‘bed bathed’. This can take any thing up to 30 mins to an hour for one resident, depending on their needs.
Did I mention the bells? Maybe not … but now is a good time. Each and every resident has a call bell system, which enables them to ‘call’ a member of staff at any time they need one. And each member of staff has a bleep, that alerts them to the fact that ‘Mr Z’ in Room 100097453 is ringing for assistance. Who knows what Mr Z needs … maybe he would like to go to bathroom, maybe he would like a cup of tea, maybe he would like to make a phone call, maybe he would like to chat. Maybe he would like assistance in some other shape or form. Or maybe he has fallen or is feeling unwell. Care Assistants are the people who, at the same time as bathing other residents, at the same time as assisting people to eat their meals, at the same time as making beds and trying to assist people to get up, have to also answer these bells, as and when they ring, as quickly as they possibly can. And ring they can. On a very very regular basis.
Care Assistants, are the people, whom after lunch carry on with the ‘routine’ of assisting people with bathing and personal care. Assisting people the toilet, ensure people are settled, comfortable and clean and dry.
Care Assistants are the people who have to ensure very poorly residents are ‘turned’ (for people who are in bed all of the time) on a regular basis, often an hourly one.
Care Assistants are the people who have to take the clinical waste outside at the end of a shift, sort out the laundry accumulated throughout the day, sign books, ensure records from the day are up to date.
Care Assistants have to make sure at all times that every health and safety issue is carefully observed. They are the people who have to make sure lounges and corridors are tidy and clear of obstruction. They are the people who are called upon by other staff such as the domestics to unblock toilets if need be, or to pick up other things that may have been found around that others wont touch.
They are the people who answer the phone when the nurse/manager is not around, and they are the people who have to answer the door bell every time it rings. They are the people who have to offer visitors drinks (then go make the drinks), and show people who have never been in the building before around.
Care Assistants are the people who escort residents to appointments, be it doctors, dentists, opticians or the hospital. Sometimes they are the people who take a resident into town because the want to do some shopping.
Care Assistants are the people who care for patients and residents as they are dying. They try and deal with every need possible that needs dealing with, for all residents, dying or not, from personal care to emotional care. However when someone is in their last days, they often need much more intense assistance.
Care Assistants are the people who talk with and build relationships with the residents/and their families. They are the people who sit with them as they die (although, in my particular place there are some dedicated members of staff who do this so Care Assistants dont have to, however if those dedicated staff members are off on holidays, sick, days off, it is the Care Assistants who pick up that role).
Care Assistants are the people who provide what is seen as the last possible care available to someone who has died. They spend time with the deceased person, washing them, ensuring they are comfortable, for family to visit if they want, if not, ready for the undertakers to arrive.
Care Assistants are the people who sometimes sit in stunned silence in the staff room or the office when someone has died, pondering what it means to be alive, what it means to die, and what it means to do the job we do. They are the people who shed a tear, or a few, but behind closed doors, so when they go back on to the ‘floor’ they are smiling.
Care Assistants are the people who work a job role that is not exhaustive. There is no end to it. No end to the list that is their ‘job description’. They are expected to and do anything that is required of them to ensure the ‘running’ of the home they are working in, and to ensure residents/patients are cared for.
I could sit and write all night of the different jobs a Care Assistant may find themselves faced with, but I hope I have managed to highlight just a few above.
Care Assistants are the people whose role is very often not understood. They are people who others often think are ‘JUST’ Care Assistants. I can promise you they are not. They are people working a job that is often very badly misrepresented. Misrepresented by the media/the press. You hear/see the bad stories, yes, and I don’t deny that those people need to be bought to justice, however it can often paint a target on the back of those who genuinely care. I’ve gotten into several twitter debates with people keen to tar us all with the same brush. I don’t deny the problems. They do exist. But often those problems stem not from the Care Assistants, but from what has become ‘private healthcare’ where profit is often more important than care.
I can assure you, for every bad penny in the care industry, there are thousands and thousands of people who work a job that they don’t do for the money (you can get paid much more working as a shelf stacker in a supermarket, not to mention pensions and sick pay) but the do for love of the job. For love of the people they care for. For love of wanting to try and make a difference in the lives of those who are not able to care for themselves. For the love of loving other people.
And having worked the role for many years, and now, although I am currently one stepped removed, I’m still very close to the role and the people who work it, I cant express enough how much respect I have for those people who ARE Care Assistants.
You are not JUST anything. You are valued. By the people you care for. By me.