Keeping the home ties strong is one important way that Phoenix Futures keeps their residents’ motivation high, says Liam Ward
Aligned with government guidance – and as with other registered care homes – our residents are currently unable to receive visits from their loved ones. We know that these connections are really important; in a recent study, more than 60 per cent of our residents told us that repairing relationships with loved ones is one of the most important and motivating factors behind their recovery.
Evidence confirms that visits are conducive to improved outcomes throughout treatment and emphasises how a regular structure of contact with loved ones can provide a welcome balance to the hard work required throughout residential treatment.
COVID-19 has meant that elements within our programme have had to be adapted to ensure the continued safety of everyone in our care. Without visits we wanted to ensure we supported our residents to keep connected with their loved ones, and our services have certainly done that!
Access to WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype video calling software has been increased as well as the availability of the service telephone and, where appropriate, residents’ own personal devices too. Additional time is given for those wishing to contact families and children.
Further to this, services are being innovative and finding ways to keep families updated, connected and reassured that their loved ones are being cared for.
Our Wirral Residential’s choir has been singing and sharing videos on social media, including their closed community group on Facebook. This has allowed family members to watch their loved ones looking well and enjoying activities. Family members commented that it was amazing, and that they were proud. They also said how good it was to see them doing so well.
The residential community responded by creating video messages that were shared, and in turn received heart-warming and motivating messages such as ‘you’re doing great’, ‘love and miss you’ and ‘keep up the good work’, which were passed onto them by staff.
Sense of achievement
Lee B has been with us in our Wirral Residential since January and told me how he FaceTimes his son twice a week but misses having visits. ‘I can’t wait for the restrictions to be lifted so he, my mum and my nan can come,’ he said. ‘They’ve been going on the Facebook site and writing comments. It makes me feel really proud of myself. It gives a sense of achievement and reminds me why I’m here.’
I asked how Lee felt after hearing from his family. ‘I feel sad for a short time because I’m missing them,’ he said. ‘But after I reflect on it, reflect on the reasons I’m here, it makes me feel good seeing them smile and feeling like I’m achieving something with my life.
‘If I was still out there, I’d be dead,’ he added. ‘I used to be isolated, I suffered from anxiety, I was paranoid. I would have spiralled. I was out of control. Now I’m healthier. I’ve got colour back in my skin and colour back in my life.’
Lee A was admitted in late March after the lockdown had been announced by the government. He spoke about his initial feelings upon entering rehab during this time, and spending his first few days separate from the community as part of our screening process for new admissions.
‘It was the way it had to be,’ he said. ‘I had company with the other new admissions, and we all kept a social distance. Staff were fantastic. They kept us engaged, kept us entertained. When that was over I was excited to go into my first meeting, but I hadn’t mentally prepared myself. The community were so welcoming and understanding though, I warmed to everybody.’
Lee A went on to discuss his relationship with his family, and his feelings around being away from them. ‘I hear from my mother, my grandparents and my sister about two or three times a week. It’s strange for me to hear them say things about me like “I’m proud” or “well done”. I pushed these people to the ends of their tethers. It’s been hard to explain to people what I’m feeling, but here (in rehab) we can all relate to each other.
‘Yes, I want to see them, but we all respect the rules, it’s for our safety and for others. [When we were addicted] we were selfish, we didn’t care, but now we feel empathy, we worry about other people,’ he said. ‘Now more than ever we understand these rules, we don’t want to hurt anybody. It’s beautiful to have that part of us back, something missing all those years.’
Lee A continued ‘My family notice a difference in me. They hear it over the phone. I didn’t make sense in the past when I spoke. I’d go too fast and lose my point but now I’m concise and well mannered, I have confidence in my voice. My family have told me it’s lovely.’
‘We’re in the best place’
Dave C arrived with us in December. He spoke about those he misses most and gave his thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 on his and their lives. ‘It’s been tough because my mother has no immune system. She visited me before the lockdown. I can’t help worrying it was the last time I’m going to see her. It’s always in the back of my mind.’
Dave speaks on the phone to his mother several times a week, as well as other members of his family, who keep him abreast of their activity – or lack of it, in some cases. ‘People outside are bored. We’re in the best place because we’ve got the community. The boredom can’t set in,’ he said. ‘I love being here. It’s one big happy family.’
Dave went on to speak about the impact of the staff team on his experience whilst being in rehab, particularly at this difficult time. ‘The staff are fantastic. What they’ve done for us is above and beyond. Loads of services are closed down and can’t take admissions. They’re a fantastic bunch of people. After I leave, I want to get my health and social care education. I want to be part of this team.’
His feelings were echoed by his peers. ‘I’m so grateful to the staff here. They’re doing everything they can – putting on activities for us, making plans for families to visit once restrictions are lifted. I respect them for putting their lives at risk,’ said Lee B.
‘I speak to my family every night’
David F, a resident at our Scottish Residential service in Glasgow, added, ‘Staff have been brilliant. They’re worse off than us out there. They’re out there on their days off, some of them alone, then they come in and they’re positive, encouraging and determined.’
David is the most senior member of the community in Glasgow, having been with us since September 2019. As a result, he is looked to as a role model for other residents and is allowed certain privileges to reflect his progress. One is more regular access to his phone, which he uses to call his family.
‘Before treatment, communication with family was terrible. They’ve always been supportive, but we never really talked. Now I speak to different members of my family every night. I speak to my mum, my aunt, my daughter, and even my brother who lives in Australia,’ he said.
‘They tell me it’s hard, but they don’t tell me how they’re feeling. They might have a sense of making me feel like I need to go. They tell me a bit but just encourage me mostly.’
David went on to reflect on his feelings towards the current situation around coronavirus, and the effect it has had on him and his programme. ‘We get updates on how it’s going on, but because we aren’t out there and experiencing it I think we’re a little sheltered, so maybe we don’t realise the gravity of the effect on the rest of the world. We see it on the news but we’re not living it.
I was going on home visits before all of this and having face-to-face contact. My mum was coming to family support groups. Even though that’s been taken away, I’m trying to take a positive out of it. It’s time to build up more strength and have more chance of recovery.’
Across the country, the feelings in our services follow a consistent thread. Times are hard, but those with us are in a safe place and are supported by others in their residential communities. There is a tremendous sense of cohesion and unity between those in treatment and the dedicated staff teams supporting them.
Dave C likened the feeling to the mantra of his beloved football team, Liverpool – ‘This means more’. ‘It runs through this house,’ he said. ‘You can see it in the faces of all these amazing people around you.