Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, new admissions into rehab have had to isolate. Stewart Bell tells us about his role as an isolation support worker at Phoenix Futures’ Wirral Residential service.
Read Stewart’s story in DDN Magazine
My journey towards this role began in 2017 when I was a resident here. Six months later I moved into Phoenix’s supported housing and came back to do peer mentoring once a week at the residential.
I found myself enjoying it more and more, especially building up relationships with the staff team. I took courses in health and social care and mental health awareness, and did everything available for personal and professional development. I began delivering groups and enjoyed it so much it made me want to get more involved, so I became a volunteer worker for three days a week. When the pandemic began having an effect in March 2020, I was still volunteering and supporting different parts of our work where needed.
So much of what used to be second nature changed overnight. People had to isolate for 14 days (now ten) to make sure they didn’t have any symptoms before they joined the main community. I needed to help keep the people in isolation separate and safe, but also keep them engaged. I introduced them to the language of the therapeutic community, getting them started with written work, and looked to increase their comfort by improving the facilities and entertainment available. As the year went on, we heard about more residential services closing their doors, which meant even more people needed our help, so I was offered a full-time contract as isolation worker.
I start the day by administering medication to those in isolation, followed by a morning check-in, including making a list of any essentials they need.
After serving breakfast, I attend the staff handover meeting, where I keep up with what’s happening in the main house and give an update on people’s progress in isolation. Then I do a ‘feelings check’ with each individual in isolation, which might take me half an hour on one day and three hours the next, depending on what’s come up. The greatest gift you can give to someone is time. After bringing lunch, I make sure people get their afternoon medication on time – especially important for those going through detox withdrawals. Then if there’s chance, I like to get the isolated residents out for a (socially distanced) walk and discuss what to expect when moving into the main community. A change of scenery and a bit of freedom enables them to open up and have honest conversations. Throughout the day I fit in admin, calls to doctors, logging medication and addressing any other needs, then issue the evening medication before I leave.
There’s a lot I enjoy about this job, but delivering groups is my favourite part, as well as chatting to the people in treatment. There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to offer someone some advice and see them go on to achieve so much knowing I played a small part. If someone wants to leave during detox and you convince them to stay, then six months later see them complete their programme, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world.
It’s frustrating that during COVID people can’t have all the usual experiences around rebuilding relationships – home leave and external commitments as people move through the programme are invaluable. We make the best of it and the team here at the Wirral Residential are brilliant, but I sometimes worry for the people coming into rehab that going into isolation could feel like they’re stuck in a bubble.
When I came into treatment, I had no intention of going into this work – I wanted to be a nurse. But the two careers aren’t so different – the healing process people go through is similar. Whatever you do, you’ve got to be passionate about it, and job satisfaction in recovery is massive.
It’s thanks to Phoenix I’m still here, and that gratitude is the foundation for me being so passionate about this job. This last year has been difficult, but in a strange way it’s also been great for my professional development.
Click here to find out more about Phoenix Futures’ Wirral Residential service.