A little support makes a big difference

When St John of God Health Care put the call out to its caregivers to assist with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the aged care sector, the response from caregivers was swift and full of compassion. 

23 Sep 2020

A little support makes a big difference 

Enrolled Nurse Melanie Phillips, from Dandenong’s St John of God Pinelodge Clinic, was one of many St John of God Health Care caregivers who volunteered to support aged care residents.

Within days she was beginning a five week secondment to the St John of God Langmore Centre, Berwick, to care for aged residents most of whom had complex care needs and living with dementia.

“It happened quickly! One moment I was performing my usual nursing role, the next I was donning full PPE and preparing for the ambulances to transfer the residents,” said Melanie.

The St John of God Langmore Centre was re-opened within 10 day of re-commissioning to provide much needed relief to Victoria’s aged care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility was temporarily closed in 2018, when services transferred to the new St John of God Berwick Hospital on Kangan Drive.

St John of God Berwick Hospital received 30 aged care residents, who had been exposed to the virus, at short notice in early August. Once recovered, aged care residents were transfers to St John of God Langmore Centre for ongoing residential-style care.

The newly created Langmore team involved caregivers from across St John of God Health Care’s Victorian hospitals - nurses, pastoral practitioners, administrators, care assistants, catering and cleaning staff.

“I knew this would be a difficult and confusing experience for the residents to adjust and settle into a new facility,” says Melanie who has a background in aged care and dementia.

 “I was there the day the first residents arrived and it was exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. There was a lot of work happening behind-the-scenes to find out as much as possible about the residents including their routines, likes and dislikes. There were lots of phone calls to their loved ones to help piece together as much information as possible about our new residents.”

For the caregivers supporting the Langmore Centre, the focus was creating a safe environment to help the residents settle.

 “People living with dementia need structure and routine and we were very conscious that this could be an overwhelming experience for our residents. We could see these lovely people were worried and confused, their memories may be fading but their emotions are still there,” said Melanie.

“The residents couldn’t see our faces because of the full PPE and this was emotionally difficult for them and for us. We took the time to build their trust, providing care with gentleness and compassion and slowly our residents felt safe and at home.”  

The caregivers formed close friendships from this shared experience.

“We were all working towards the same goal, to play our part in helping Victorians get through this pandemic. But most importantly to give back to our elder community and care for them in their time of need, Melanie said.

“It was such a rewarding experience that will live with me forever. I connected and formed a deep bond with one gentleman and when the lockdown is over I would like to visit him now that he has safely returned to his aged care home.”

St John of God Langmore Centre continues to care for aged residents until it is safe for the affected care homes to re-open and welcome them back.

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