Plan to reopen mothballed care homes

Mick Ferris

Essex County Council (ECC) has said it is taking “every precaution” to ensure patients discharged from hospital into care homes will not pass on coronavirus to other residents.

The pledge comes as it outlines its commitment to continue to support the NHS by supporting patients who can be safely discharged from hospital.

ECC will do this by reopening care homes that have either been closed or mothballed, to be used as halfway houses before patients are sent home.

Concerns about the high death rate among the elderly with the spread of Covid-19 within care homes came ahead of the UK government’s announcement on changing the rules on testing — it now says all residents returning to care homes from hospital will get a test.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “We continue to support care homes and are working closely with them to ensure every precaution is taken to keep residents safe and well.

“This week, we also welcomed news from the government about a new policy – part of their social care action plan – which will see every individual tested for the virus before admission to a care home, starting with those that are discharged from hospital.

“Care homes already deploy appropriate infection control procedures to protect residents and the county council continues to offer support to homes through provision of public health advice and access to personal protective equipment (PPE), where there is a critical need.

“Additional support is also offered via a wrap-around service that is joined-up with local NHS clinical commissioning groups, community providers and our quality improvement team.”

Over 560 beds have been secured by the council through the care home market to date,  but more are needed.

ECC had previously earmarked up to £10.6 million to fund the purchase of almost 300 hotel rooms in Brentwood and Basildon, which were required in addition to residential care beds it had secured.

But analysis has shown cost inefficiencies and so ECC instead is looking to revamp care homes  no longer in use. These will provide  332 beds for elderly people until they are well enough to move back to a more permanent home.

A statement added: “There are care homes which are still equipped and are easier to adapt for care home purposes to meet our requirements, as they have more specialist equipment and furnishings more suited to use as a setting to provide care.

“There are a number of care homes which have closed recently, and which would be able to be reopened relatively easily. If the recommendations in this report are approved we would, on a phased basis, only purchase these beds in care homes, which are of a reasonable standard and fully equipped or can be equipped more cheaply than hotel accommodation.

“The council will be working with CCGs on identifying and securing appropriate sites that could be brought online quickly. It may be that through this joint working, in some cases, CCGs are the ones who secure the premises and the lease and ECC only arranges the care staff.

“Ultimately both parties would plan to recoup this spend from the same central government funding stream.”

Essex Cares Limited (ECL) is able manage at least one of the care homes.

The council would then look for ECL or another provider to be able to operate the other care homes, in the coming weeks, as the demand and modelling become clearer.

It is anticipated with the work required to mobilise the care homes, the first facility will be open within three weeks if ECC or the CCG is able to secure a site that is ready to mobilise.

Other sites may take longer if there is more work required to make them ready to mobilise i.e. if any fixtures and fittings need repair.

A statement added: “Staffing of these sites will be a challenge and will be based on making maximum use of staff redeployed from other contracts i.e. day centres and maximum use of the Essex Welfare Scheme, other recruitment opportunities, as well as the council’s own volunteer and redeployment scheme.

“The sites may well require some occupational therapists and community nurses and the project manager will work with our community health providers on this matter.”


Mick Ferris

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