Unsung Heroes: Adult social workers, assistants, occupational therapists and approved mental health professionals

Their roles have been at the forefront since lockdown began, ensuring those who are anxious, worried and unwell can still access the support they need.

Adult social workers, assistants, occupational therapists and Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHP) work with some of the most vulnerable people in the county borough.

With residents unable to meet their families, see neighbours or attend various community groups as they did before the coronavirus pandemic, anxiety and stress has increased for many.

Working long hours, often from home and without the support of their team sitting beside them, staff have had to adapt and find innovative new ways of taking care of those who need their help.

Laura, a social worker on the older person’s mental health team, works with people who have dementia or various mental health conditions, working closely with community mental health nurses.

She said: “One of the biggest challenges is not being able to visit people as much as we used to – we’ve adapted by phoning everyone on our list regularly to check in and see how they’re doing, and we’re using virtual support.

“Many people were self-isolating before the lockdown began which means they have not been able to see their families or get out for a long time which is difficult for them.

“While it’s frustrating for us not to be able to offer the same level of support, we’ve been told by individuals and their families that it’s been a real help for them to know there’s someone at the end of the telephone who can listen to them and support them and to check in to see how they are, it’s a bit of normality.”

Paivi, a social worker for the community independence and wellbeing team, helps adults with physical disabilities and complex health conditions to be as independent as possible.

She said: “Our adults might have difficulties in communicating whether that’s due to a speech impediment or cognitive impairment so phone calls are not always possible.

“From day one, the lockdown and fears around the pandemic was going to increase anxiety, depression and isolation. Even in normal times, some people struggled to get outside and see people.

“But now it’s much harder – many of our residents face the choice of having help at home which they would really struggle without or accepting it, and then they worry about the risk of infection.

“We are doing our best to stay in contact with individuals over the phone, using emails or Skype, and where necessary, we go and see the person to ensure they’re ok. A recent assessment, for example, was held in a resident’s garden at their request.”

Marny, an AMHP on the adult mental health team, carries out mental health assessments with doctors to decide whether someone needs to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

She said: “It’s a role that can’t be done from home or the office so we are continuing in the way we have done but what has changed is the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during assessments.

“However when you have someone who is paranoid, to have myself and two doctors turn up in masks, aprons and gloves to do an assessment can make people more stressed and worried. What we do then is to offer them their own PPE which works up to a certain extent, it’s a bit of equality and helps them to feel we are all protecting each other.

“It doesn’t work with everyone though, with older people who have hearing problems they need to see your face, communication is really difficult.

“With people’s anxiety being heightened at this time and there being less support for people in their home, the role of mental health professionals is really important to make sure people get the right services or treatment they need.”

Tony, a senior social worker on the adult learning disabilities team, has been among those coming into the office to ensure a rapid response on any emergency situations.

He said: “A number of people have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 and due to their unique needs, quite complex solutions are often needed during their admission and discharge.

“Some of our residents live alone and don’t quite understand the issues to do with the pandemic and restrictions. Our team contacts a list of individuals every day as a means of promoting good mental health and stopping it deteriorating.

“We’re still doing reviews and assessments and we’re in contact on a regular basis with families, carers and paid carers. People feel isolated at this time, it’s been invaluable for them to hear a familiar voice down the line or to see staff face-to-face via Skype.”

The transformation and review team in the local authority have been undertaking welfare calls to hundreds of residents on a regular basis to see whether their circumstances have changed and whether they need extra support.

Jayde, a social worker in the team, who undertakes reviews of care and support plans for people receiving services either in the community, at home or in residential or nursing placements, said: “It’s a new way of working, we have to build trust and rapport over the phone to do reviews and assessments while we do visits if absolutely essential.

“It’s a very challenging time for everyone, particularly the vulnerable. Some have really good family networks but unfortunately, some don’t.

“It’s about making sure people are managing ok and seeing whether the support they have in place is still meeting their needs or whether they need additional support, like shopping or prescription collections.”

Lacey, a social work assistant in the same team, said: “A lot more work is involved when you’re not able to see the person and get a feel for their environment.

“When working with adults who have cognitive impairments or those with dementia, communication on the phone can be difficult. We have needed to take this into consideration when collating information and we use various approaches to respond as best we can during the pandemic.

“We continue to strive to maintain communication with individuals, carers, commissioned providers, other professionals and stakeholders such as the Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations (BAVO) in order to explore how best to support people.”

Richard, a social worker in one of the county borough’s community networks, said: “When you meet someone in person you take in all kinds of things – it might be how somebody is dressed, body language, the home itself and how they manage to get around it.

“With much of our work now done on the phone you have to focus on different cues.

“Families and carers are particularly under a lot of stress – it’s making that contact to let them know we are still here and they can call us at any point.”

Chris who is the operational lead for social workers covering Bridgend town centre and Pencoed helps to manage the links between nurses, social workers and the third sector.

He said: “We work with some of the most vulnerable people who don’t understand what’s going on – making sure we explain as best we can and maintain the quality of service while reassuring people is a critical part of the role.”

In one instance, where a family was not able to visit their loved one in hospital, the community social work team helped to provide reassurance by taking a photo of the resident ready for discharge and sending it to their family.

Neil is the Occupational Therapy (OT) manager who oversees OTs across the different teams in the local authority.

A rehabilitation and enabling service, OTs work with individuals to make alterations to their homes or provide them with equipment to help them carry out the tasks that are important to them. Currently, they are focusing on urgent situations, helping people to stay as independent as possible, supporting carers and keeping people out of hospital.

He said: “A lot of our referrals involve helping people who are falling and finding solutions to keep them independent. In the current crisis many vulnerable people have decided not to have care staff visiting them and have been seeking advice from the OT’s on ways of looking after themselves.

“We have to be quite imaginative – a lot of the people we help are shielding and so, in some instances, rather than going to their house we’ve looked for alternatives, including assessments and observations via Skype.

“There’s also been a lot more Telecare assessments with people wanting that additional support when living on their own.”

Susan who oversees short term social work at the Princess of Wales Hospital, the community resource centre and the common access point where members of the public call to flag concerns, said: “Covid-19 has come along but it hasn’t stopped all the other issues that impact on people’s health – our teams have been flexible and creative in meeting the need of individuals, everybody is really pulling together.

“We have had people from all over the world contact us asking about their relatives and asking if we can organise shopping or deliveries for them, we are able to put them in touch with the third sector which has done an incredible job.

“Families are feeling an incredible amount of guilt as they are unable to visit people in hospital or care homes at this time, it’s hugely stressful for them.

“As part of our role we are providing quite a lot of emotional support to carers.

“Our role is always important in terms of managing, assessing and mitigating risk while making sure that individuals have a voice and support to overcome their challenges.”

The Leader, Cllr Huw David, said: “Throughout the current crisis, our staff have helped to keep people safe and reassured in a time when there has been unprecedented challenges.

“It has involved adapting to ever-changing circumstances in uncertain times, finding new ways of working and they have done it all with the utmost professionalism and care for those in need of help and support.”