They’re often the only face that thousands of elderly and vulnerable residents in Bridgend county borough will see.
And their role – already critical – has become even more so with many families unable to visit their relatives, community groups having stopped and leaving their home no longer safe in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the last few weeks, hundreds of social care workers in the county borough have taken on additional responsibilities beyond their core duties, helping to cook, clean, shop and reassure worried residents.
And they’re fully aware that with many of the elderly unable to access or use the internet to take part in video calls with their loved ones, they have become the next best thing to family, helping reduce their sense of isolation as much as possible.
Depending on the needs of individuals, care workers can visit up to four times a day – helping to get them out of bed, washed, dressed and giving them their breakfast, helping with further personal care and lunch; in the late afternoon with tea and drink, and finally, ensuring they take any medication and helping get them into bed.
As well as directly employing hundreds of care workers, the local authority also commissions similar services through independent care providers – all are facing huge challenges during the outbreak of coronavirus.
Rebecca Fairchild who works as a coordinator and carer at Everycare Bridgend visits people in the Ogmore Valley, Garw Valley, Porthcawl, Sarn, Pencoed and Bridgend.
“The last few weeks have been madness.
“We look after the elderly taking care of all types of personal care.
“A lot of service users are scared and worried, a big part of the role at the moment is reassuring them because they’re isolated and a lot of them are worried about family that they’re unable to see.
“They can’t have their cleaners come in, so we’re doing extra bits on top like cleaning, making food where their families can’t come, popping to the shops to grab a loaf of bread.
“The more we can do to keep them safe and reassure them the better.”
Rebecca who is also a carer for her mother says her biggest challenge is not bringing anything home.
“I strip at the front door and go straight in the shower and then I can go to see my mother,” she said.
Being a coordinator as well, the last few weeks for Rebecca has seen days which include working in the community from 7am to 9am, doing a 9am to 5pm stint in the office and then back out in the community from 5pm to 10pm.
Natalie John, a senior carer at Everycare Bridgend, says she spent Sunday making six lamb dinners for residents across Maesteg on top of her regular duties.
“For many people, they have ready meals all week and they look forward so much to a cooked meal on Sunday – with families unable to visit them and make it for them, I just couldn’t let them down.”
She said the hardest thing for her during this time is being without her 11-year-old son. To limit the risk of her bringing the coronavirus home, he is living with his grandparents.
“His grandparents are young so are not high risk, they spoil him rotten but I miss him terribly.”
Samantha Curl, a senior care coordinator from Serendipity Care, is usually office-based but she has been going out into the community to help cover for colleagues who have had to self-isolate or look after their children.
Visiting homes in places like Bridgend, Pencoed, Maesteg, Pyle and Porthcawl, she helps to look after those who are elderly and who suffer from mental health issues.
“It’s all hands on deck, it’s about making sure everyone gets the care they need and are kept safe in their homes.
“We’re often the only face people see, they put their trust in us and we make sure we brighten up their lives – we have a chat and a laugh, sort them out and do what needs to be done.
“For some people it’s very hard, it’s become even more important to give their spirits a lift.
“In my eyes we are just as important as NHS staff as without us these people would be in hospital.”
Bridgend County Borough Council’s provider services manager Carol Owen said:
“These are unprecedented times, none of us have experienced this in our lifetime but with the commitment and dedication from everybody our staff will continue to ensure the safety of people that we support.
“Staff are feeling very anxious – they are putting their lives at risk day in, day out.
“There’s a lot of support from the community for our frontline staff – it’s a very emotional but rewarding time.”
While thousands of people are being looked after in their own homes, social care workers are also looking after residents in nursing homes and extra care facilities in the county borough.
Kay Rees who manages the extra care facilities and residential care homes in partnership with Linc Cymru said she was extremely proud to be part of the social care team.
“Staff are continuing to come to work, and to be positive and upbeat.
“They’re doing their utmost to leave their own home worries and concerns behind as they come into the work place and trying to keep everything as normal as possible, whatever normal looks like at this point in time.”
The Leader, Cllr Huw David and the Cabinet Member for Social Services, Cllr Phil White, said:
“We are indebted to all social care workers who are working so tirelessly and doing a phenomenal job in our communities at this very difficult time.
“Without them, our communities would fall apart.”