I was doing an observation in a care home in Wales as part of their yearly ‘Butterfly’ accreditation. There was a lovely, relaxed breakfast happening with lots of chat. This is often a hectic time of day for care workers supporting people to get up, so I was surprised to see that there were several members of the team sitting at the breakfast table drinking tea and eating toast with people. It emerged that these team members included the housekeeper, the maintenance man and the office administrator, who all saw it as part of their role to share the breakfast experience with people, whilst the carers were busy.
The same maintenance man was a great character and throughout the day created amazing magic moments with people. At one point, he came into the living room and announced with suitable drama that he was “looking for a new wife”, and lots of laughter and chat resulted about who might be a suitable bride! At another point, he came in with a bag of tools and a broken chair and asked one of the men to give him a hand with re-screwing the leg back on the chair. The man did this with great enjoyment and focus and they then had a beer together to celebrate their achievement.
In another care home, one of the housekeepers, who is Portuguese, takes time every morning to sit and chat to one of the women living in the home who also speaks Portuguese and is losing her spoken English with the development of her dementia. The woman’s face lights up when she hears a greeting in her native language. She also takes time to create lovely designs from folding and arranging towels, such as swans and flowers and places them on people’s beds.
One of the kitchen team members in another care home takes pride in putting something fun on the tables at lunch time to spark a conversation. Everyone looked forward to seeing what she has done to make the table interesting. Examples included a basket of leaves in the Autumn/Fall, a large pineapple, a photograph of Queen Elizabeth or a little bird house, with a pretend bird inside.
A young housekeeper from Lithuania came into the room during an art activity in a care home one afternoon. He was a quiet young man with very little English, but I invited him to join us. He started to sketch one of the women sitting at the table, and it was clear he was a very talented artist! We decided to purchase a proper artist easel and for him to do fortnightly portrait sessions in the home. The person whose portrait was being done enjoyed getting ready for the occasion, deciding what to wear and how to pose. Lots of people really enjoyed watching him at work, especially one of the women living in the home who was also an artist. The worker felt a very valued member of the team and proud he could share his talent with the care home.
All of these examples demonstrate how important it is to recognise, appreciate and use the different skills, interests and abilities which your team offers. No one is ‘just a cleaner’ or ‘just a maintenance person’ and in many care environments, these so called ‘ancillary’ or ‘support’ staff can provide a vital role in bringing fun, variety and companionship into the day.