Cohort 3 of the Care Home Pioneer programme took place amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that all the programme’s sessions were held via Zoom. As a result, the graduation event presented an opportunity for the Pioneer care home leaders to meet in person for the first time. George Croft, the Healthy Ageing Team’s Project Support Officer, reflects on the day.
On Tuesday 2 November, the Health Innovation Network (HIN) and My Home Life came together at Southwark Cathedral to celebrate the achievements of the third cohort of south London Care Home Pioneers. The Pioneer Programme is a leadership development programme for care home managers and senior care home nurses based in south London. The HIN has run the Pioneer programme since 2018 in partnership with My Home Life, an organisation working to support quality of life for all people who live, die, work and visit in care homes.
When I joined the HIN in March 2021, I was excited to witness first-hand how the HIN’s work impacted the lives of people working “on the ground” in health and social care. My time so far supporting the Pioneer programme has proven to me the value that projects like ours can bring to the care sector and those who work within it.
At the graduation event, seven Care Home Pioneers joined us to not only celebrate their achievement of taking part in the programme but also to acknowledge the strength and compassion that they demonstrated whilst caring for their residents during the coronavirus pandemic. The Pioneers reflected that the Action Learning sessions fostered a “wellness space” as well as a way of “checking out of work and checking in with colleagues” for a few hours every couple of weeks. One care home manager explained passionately that the sessions were “where I would go to recharge my batteries, they gave me courage during difficult conversations” – a remark that has stuck with me in the weeks after the event.
Care home staff have long felt undervalued in comparison to their NHS colleagues [recently highlighted in BBC One’s Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls] and the Pioneer programme is one way that we can help arm leaders with a “portfolio of tools” as one Pioneer put it. Another care home manager mentioned that the programme helped her “learn how to delegate better, helped my home develop shared decision making, and hand more responsibility to staff, which reduced my stress and helped me gain a better work/life balance.”
The Action Learning component of the programme was led by My Home Life facilitator Danuta Lipinska, who commented – “I certainly felt quite emotional, not only to meet these hardy Pioneers, but to be reminded of what they had all endured and survived, and were now thriving, even though the Covid-19 virus is still with us… We celebrated the achievements of these dedicated and selfless women and men and applauded loudly as we awarded well deserved certificates to the Pioneers. We wish them continued success and stamina in the months that follow, safe in the knowledge that they are not alone and have forged strong relationships with one another and are Associates of the My Home Life and HIN community – a compassionate, skilled and formidable presence in south London.”
When the Pioneers signed up for the programme, none of them expected to be taking part in virtual workshops, with all the demands that being a care home manager brings erupting in the background. Whilst helping deliver the HIN’s quality improvement element of the programme over Zoom, it was clear to me that there were a lot of exhausted faces in the room, even after the peak of the pandemic. Cohort 3’s graduates told us that whilst the programme would have been better delivered face-to-face (which the HIN would traditionally do), a hybrid of some virtual sessions would also be helpful on occasion for future cohorts.
Whilst covid restrictions have been lifted, significant challenges remain for care homes. The existing workforce issues have been elevated further by staff burnout, as well as the government’s announcement that vaccination against Covid-19 is to become a condition of deployment in care homes. However, the feedback from the Pioneers shows that the programme has played an important role in supporting care home managers during the toughest times that the sector has faced in its history, arming leaders with an array of skills and confidence to engage with wider clinical services to help keep residents safe. Working on Cohort 3 of the Pioneer programme has been a pleasure, and I look forward to future work that we can do to support alumni and future cohorts.
The HIN are in the process of securing funding for Cohort 4 of the Pioneer programme, which will be co-designed alongside alumni of previous Pioneer cohorts, to deliver a programme that best meets the needs of care home leaders in south London.