Meet the eight carers who went to live with 23 dementia patients

Picture of selflessness: Meet the eight carers who left their families behind to live with 23 dementia patients after the coronavirus lockdown struck

Life for the 23 vulnerable residents at Bridgedale House care home in Sheffield appears almost untouched by the coronavirus pandemic.

Every morning the same carers — Sarah-Jane Clark, Maria Mantu and Katie Wright — wake the residents at 7.30am and help them dress.

Smiley chef Mark Beck prepares breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper each day, while deputy manager Lynsey Wright oversees activities such as flower-arranging and chair aerobics.

Kitchen and domestic assistant Mandy Boyce regularly sings for the residents, while night carers Kirsty Scott and Sarah Willis tend to their needs from 7pm to 7am. All the residents, aged between 65 and 96, have dementia. 

A group of care workers have left their families and moved into a care home with residents to help protect them from the coronavirus

Few are even aware of the virus which threatens their lives, nor the sacrifice their selfless carers are making to protect them.

For since Tuesday last week, this devoted group of eight staff have been ‘locked-in’ with those they care for, working 12-hour shifts for no extra pay to minimise the risk of bringing the virus into the home.

For all of them, many with children and ageing parents, it means heartache at being separated from loved ones for at least the next four weeks. Two celebrated birthdays away from their families.

The image of them lined up against the home’s windows, gazing out at a world in the grip of a crisis, speaks volumes about the refusal of the nation’s unsung heroes to desert the most vulnerable. ‘These residents are like our second family,’ explains Sarah-Jane, 23. ‘We want to do everything we can to protect them.’

What an antidote to the harrowing news from Spain recently of care home residents being found ‘dead and abandoned’ in their beds by the Army. In the past few days there have been reports of a care home crisis in Europe as Covid-19 sweeps through elderly residents.

Though the Bridgedale House residents may never fully appreciate the devotion of these carers, their sacrifice is a reminder that our elderly and vulnerable need not be casualties of this crisis.

Other UK care homes, battling with staff shortages, are now considering adopting the same ‘lock-in’ measures. The home’s owner Jennifer Barlow says she couldn’t be more proud of her staff.

Manager Sarah Harrison told the Mail she and admin director Angela Drake had been planning for the ‘worst case scenario’ since February.

Care assistants with residents of Bridgedale House care home in Sheffield pictured on lockdown during the Coronavirus

With relatives barred from visiting since March 13, and a lockdown imminent, Sarah created a WhatsApp group and asked if any staff would be willing to volunteer to be locked in.

‘This is when these amazing employees put themselves on the frontline and offered to move in, despite having to leave family and friends behind,’ says Sarah, who has a second team self-isolating, ready to take over if anyone needs to leave.

She adds: ‘They had less than 24 hours to pack and say their goodbyes. Angela and I ensured the staff had beds to sleep on, with Z-beds and blow-up camp beds also brought in. The staff brought their own duvets to make it feel a bit more homely.

‘Their dedication and the sacrifices they have made is commendable. The positivity within the home is incredible, with the happiness of residents at the forefront of their care. I cannot express my gratitude to this special group of people and I’m humbled to be a part of this team.’

So who are these unsung heroes?

Carer Sarah-Jane says her parents, Lisa and Richard, and fiancé Joe Price, a supermarket worker, couldn’t be more proud of her decision.

‘At first, you think, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t want to be away from my family’ but my mum said: ‘Sarah, your grandad fought in the war for four years. To do this for a few weeks is nothing compared to what they went through.’ ‘

Sarah-Jane, a carer for five years, adds: ‘The residents need me. It’s important that I take care of them.

‘My fiancé keeps telling me how proud he is and that he is counting down the days until he can see me. The first night here felt very strange. Most of us didn’t sleep. But the response we’ve had from the public has kept us all positive.

‘None of us ever thought anything like this would happen, but it’s amazing that we’re now being recognised because care assistants are often overlooked. It couldn’t be more rewarding knowing we’re keeping these vulnerable people safe.’

Chef Mark, 57, has worked at Bridgedale House for almost five years. Since the lock-in, he’s been working 84 hours a week to keep residents and staff well fed.

He says: ‘I had not a single doubt about volunteering. Being here is like having 23 grandmas and grandads, it’s absolutely brilliant.’

Mark has left his partner of 14 years, Sue, 55, at home. His daughters from a previous relationship, Kirsty, 32, and Mary, 25, and Sue’s daughter Hannah, 19, all fully supported his decision.

He says: ‘Of course I miss them, but the residents here were vulnerable before coronavirus and they’re still vulnerable now. There is a job to be done. They are long, hard days, but having been in the Army for three years, as long as I have my own little space at the end of the day, I’m happy with a bed, a telly in the corner and books at the side.’

Deputy manager Lynsey celebrated her 36th birthday last Sunday with a 12-hour shift in the home, separated from her husband of ten years Steve, 45, and their two cats and two dogs.

‘My husband obviously wasn’t looking forward to me to being away for a month, but he understands that I need to look after these residents,’ she says. ‘I do miss him and it all feels a bit weird and strange, but he’s very proud of me.’

Lynsey’s mother died aged 49, and she worries about her father Phil, almost 60, who is diabetic. ‘I’d be devastated if one of my family fell ill, and I’ve been FaceTiming them regularly, but I physically couldn’t leave here because I work with vulnerable adults and making sure they’re safe means everything to me.

‘All the residents’ families have sent us lovely cards, flowers, emails and messages. We’ve even had messages from people we don’t even know, which keeps us going.

‘It’s not exactly the best paid job in the world, but we’re not in it for the money. It’s something I enjoy doing and it’s incredibly rewarding. The residents might not always remember you, but every now and again they say: ‘Oh Lynsey, how are you?’ It makes all the difference.’

Day carer Katie, 35, has worked at the home for nearly three years. The lock-in means she is separated from partner Scott, 32, daughter Jessica, 16, and Scott’s daughter, 12-year-old Demi.

‘When I sat Jessica down and said: ‘This is probably what is going to happen’ she said: ‘Go and do it, Mum, you need to keep those residents safe,’ ‘ says Katie.

‘We have 23 residents and if we do what we are doing, no one can bring the virus in so we will still have 23 residents at the end of all this. That’s the main priority.

‘It is a sacrifice to be away from my family, but these people need us and this is the best we can possibly do for them.’

She adds: ‘Last week my daughter was a little bit teary over the phone, but she seems to understand a little bit more now the reason why I am doing it.

‘I’ve always said to Jessica: ‘I don’t treat it like a job.’ Carers often don’t get the recognition they deserve and at 8pm on Thursday, me and Kirsty just burst into tears when we opened the patio doors to hear all the clapping in support of health workers. It was very emotional.’

Domestic and kitchen assistant Mandy, 59, has worked at the home for two-and-a-half years and lives alone with her cat Jack.

But the lock-in means she can’t see her children Daniel, 33, and Rebecca, 27, and grandchildren Vincent, five, and two-year-old Clara.

Mandy, a Methodist preacher who also holds a service for residents on Sundays, adds: ‘Both my late mum and dad had Alzheimer’s so I know first-hand what it’s like for the residents.

‘I can’t stand suffering in any shape or form, so it comes naturally to me to want to make someone else’s life better. I didn’t have to think twice about volunteering. My family said, ‘well, Mum, you know what you’ve got to do’.

‘I’ve missed them very much. I can’t hug my own grandchildren. It’s very difficult, but it’s not only me, it’s everyone.’

Maria, 29, came to Britain from Romania seven years ago with her husband of ten years Vasi, 39, a builder and daughter Theodora, 12. She had only worked in the home for two months before the lock-in. Her father John recently had a hip replacement, and she is unable to help care for him.

She says: ‘My family felt a bit insecure to begin with, but now they feel very proud of me. I love my job and what I am doing, I’m doing with love and passion.

‘These residents are my second family, but I miss my husband and daughter and they are counting off the days until I come home.’

Night carer Sarah, who was 24 on Thursday, lives with mum Sue, 62, and has a boyfriend of five years, George, 24. She says: ‘My mum has quite bad arthritis, so I help her out quite a lot, but my boyfriend and his parents are making sure she is all right.

‘It will be a bit lonely on my birthday, but I’m sure the people here will keep me smiling and laughing. My family completely understood why I was doing it and said: ‘If you need someone to talk to we’re on the end of a phone.’

‘I just want to keep the residents safe. The recognition we are getting is just amazing. I don’t think any of us have ever felt anything like this before. We’re classed as unskilled workers, so why would anyone recognise us?

‘It’s a really important job, though until now not many people have seen it that way. It’s just a shame it’s taken this situation for NHS workers and people like us to get the recognition we deserve.

‘It’s really hard not seeing my boyfriend and I’ve asked his sister to keep him busy and smiling.

‘On Thursday he brought a gift and birthday cake from my mum, keeping a safe distance. I’d been really looking forward to that.’

Senior night care assistant Kirsty, 37, had to say goodbye to her children, Amy, eight, and Kieran, five, and her husband, Steven, 40, who is diabetic.

She says: ‘My daughter was a bit upset when I left. My son’s autistic, so he kind of gets it. He understands there is a nasty virus out there and said: ‘I don’t want you to get it.’ They are sleeping in my bed while I’m away. I promised Kieran we’re going to Thomas Land when it’s all over.’

Kirsty, who has worked at the home for six years, said she was worried about the possibility, not only of bringing the virus into Bridgdale House, but taking it home, because of her husband’s diabetes and daughter’s asthma.

‘The risk was too much. It’s safer for us all if I stay here,’ she says.

Though the residents of Bridgedale House may never comprehend the sacrifice their carers have made for them, their grateful relatives certainly do.

In a Facebook message, one spoke for them all: ‘We are so lucky that you and your amazing staff look after our mum.

‘Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being Mum’s family whilst we can’t be there — we will never forget this.’

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