'He cried, I cried' - Loved ones reunited through care home's pilot test scheme
- Credit: Iceni House
Emotional reunions have been taking place at a Norfolk care home after it launched a coronavirus testing pilot to reunite families.
Iceni House, in Swaffham, has begun inviting relatives to be tested alongside staff to counter the impacts on residents' emotional wellbeing due to the pandemic.
Last Wednesday, they invited the first 10 relatives to be tested. Following a negative result, loved ones donned the same protective personal equipment as staff to come in to their loved one's room.
Dawn Bunter, the home's manager, approached the home's director and nominated individuals to pursue running a pilot after seeing a deterioration in residents' emotional wellbeing.
The government is planning on running a similar scheme in care homes, but the home agreed to start their own.
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It meant Paula Mason was able to hold husband Stanley's hand for the first time in eight-and-a-half-months.
The couple have been together since teenagers and in September celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary, through a surprise party organised by her daughter and the home, though they were separated by a protective screen.
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Mrs Mason, 75, from Saham Toney, said: "It was the first time I had touched him since March. He cried, I cried.
"Last week I held his hand for the first time. I went in and I held his hand since the first week in March. On our anniversary we held our hands up to the screen.
"As long as I am negative I can go and see him for an hour. I'm going back on Wednesday to be tested.
"I was very pleased [about the pilot], the people who wanted to go and see their loved ones can go in. It's been very hard for everyone."
In the summer, Mrs Mason and her two children, Tina and Darren, were able to see the 77-year-old Norwich City fan through the home's drive through visits, but said it was not the same as they could not touch him.
Mrs Mason hopes that, come Christmas, family can be together at the home like last year.
And Mike Adams, from East Bilney, said the visit "lifted weight off his shoulders" when he saw his 95-year-old mum Johanna.
After confirmation of a negative test, Mr Adams was able to see her the same afternoon and commended the home for its empathy and initiative.
The 69-year-old said: "She's hard of hearing and it wasn't really good to speak on the phone and she was confused why I wasn't there.
"I'm allowed to touch her, to hold her hand and stroke her hair. You have some connection which is what everybody wants.
"It makes a huge difference. I am sure every care home would want to do this. It's all the question of capacity, as long as they have capacity to do it. There is no more risk with a relative being tested than one of the staff being tested."
Those that are tested need to continue to return each week, with 10 more relatives set to join the pilot this week. The home hopes to be able to have all relatives tested and able to visit during the Christmas period.
Mrs Bunter said the pilot had come about by working with the local council, quality assurance team and Care Quality Commission.
Mrs Bunter said: "This is not something that could be rushed and we took our time to make sure it was working efficiently. The relatives still wear PPE, they still wear masks.
"It was a testing ground to see it works. If relatives want to come in they have to be tested and they are treated like a staff member."
The home manager said staff had cancelled holidays and booked shopping deliveries to reduce the risk of bringing Covid-19 into the home.
Mrs Bunter said; "We have seen deterioration in our residents mentally and emotionally. This just shows what we have done is the right thing to do. There are really big smiles, some are still taking about they visit they have had, it's a really positive thing.
"As a team we cannot bear the thought of not having relatives in at Christmas."