Relatives of residents at two dementia care homes threatened with closure are fighting to save their loved ones enduring a traumatic move. Health Writer Sarah Dunn experienced a tour of Woodland View in Norton and saw first-hand the good work that goes on there.
JOYCE Wilde smiles her sweet smile, catches her niece’s eye, and - in a rare moment of human connection - tells her she’s lovely.
There’s no doubt she is a lovely lady too - at least on this sunny morning, as she sorts through a trinket box of twinkling treasures with the fresh joy of seeing something for the first time.
Catch the 84-year-old on a bad day, though, and her niece Rita Brookes says it can be a very different story.
Frail Joyce may weigh only five stone - you can feel the vertebrae in her spine when you hug her - but when the dementia that has cruelly invaded her mind takes over, up to three nurses can be needed to get her up and dressed in the morning.
“They could do it alone and they could do it quickly but they would end up hurting her,” Rita says.
“If she is fighting them they can need up to three members of staff to safely get her up and dressed. You wouldn’t think it when you look at her, but it’s aggression, sheer aggression, that comes through when she’s having a bad day.”
The intensity of staff numbers - a strength of workforce which allows three employees to be busy with just one patient - is only one element that makes Woodland View in Norton and Birch Avenue in Chapeltown extra special.
The wealth of experience of the staff members is invaluable at both specialist dementia homes. Many of the workers transferred over when the old Middlewood Hospital closed and have years of experience caring for patients who display challenging behaviour such as violent attacks, escape attempts and disruptive outbursts.
Sadly, it is this experience and skill which costs money - money which the primary care trust NHS Sheffield has now agreed in principle to withdraw, leaving both homes at risk of closure.
The trust claims the £2.8m it currently provides in ‘top-up’ funding can no longer be justified, since there is no evidence to suggest the homes provide sufficient added value.
It is a stance battling relatives fiercely deny, as they fight to keep the two homes and the 100 specialist beds they provide open for their loved ones and future generations who fall victim to the wicked condition of dementia.
They also take issue with the figures quoted, since they believe the proposals - still under consultation ahead of a final decision in June - won’t actually save money in the long-term.
Rita, from Whiston, Rotherham, said: “We think the figures are misleading, in that they believe they are going to be saving money by stopping the top-up funding.
“But if these homes are closed down, they are going to see a huge increase in the number of people needing hospital care as well as palliative care, since residents stay here until the end and don’t have to go into hospital to die.
“They are also going to have to fork out millions in redundancy pay for staff, some of whom have been in post for 19 years since Middlewood Hospital closed. Some residents are also going to attract ‘enhanced fees’ in the private sector because of their specialist needs, meaning they could end up forking out £1,500 a week for some people. When you read figures like that it makes places like Woodland View and Birch Avenue sound cheap.”
Along with the specialist staff, Woodland View and Birch Avenue go far beyond the extra mile to ensure residents feel safe, secure and ‘at home’.
One fundamental element is the layout of the facilities themselves, made up of separate cottages interlinked by corridors and a garden.
There’s also a raft of activities organised each week - everything from swimming trips to tree planting and certainly going ‘way beyond bingo and dominoes’, according to Rita - while posters display adverts for art classes and a party planned to celebrate the Royal wedding on April 29.
Reiki practitioner Jackie Glossop is a regular visitor to the home - something as simple as a head massage helps convey a calmness to a resident that can set the tone for the day.
Such added extras are key to treating and caring for the person as well as the patient.
After all, before dementia robbed these people of the lives they once knew, each had their own distinctive personality and colourful background.
Joyce, for example, was a pastry chef, while fellow residents include a former barrister, baker and midwife.
The families of these individuals - all Sheffield citizens, something which is part of the admissions criteria - are desperately worried about what will happen to their loved ones if the homes are shut down.
Many have had experience of private care homes before their relatives arrived at Woodland View - and most have shocking stories to tell, since the facilities were simply not able to cope with such specialist needs and challenging behaviour. Resident Mary was found wandering around outside in the middle of the night one January, wearing just a blouse and slippers. A man walking home from a nightclub spotted her and raised the alarm - and when he took her back to the nursing home where she lived, no-one even knew she had gone.
Diabetic Joyce, meanwhile, was in and out of the Northern General Hospital nine times in nine months when she was a resident at a different care home. She also suffered numerous injuries because staff did not know how to deal effectively with her aggression.
Rita said: “The staff need to be really careful keeping an eye on her blood sugar levels because she cannot communicate to tell them if there is a problem.
“They pick up on the smallest signals here, which I’m terrified would be missed if she were moved elsewhere.
“Before she came to Woodland View she was in hospital nine times in nine months; she has now been here two years and has only been admitted twice. It’s because they are handling her and her condition.”
It’s the bad memories of the dark days before Woodland View and Birch Avenue, as well as a huge fear of the unknown, that is driving a group of determined relatives forward in a campaign to halt the plans.
They have handed in a petition containing more than 12,000 signatures to Sheffield Town Hall and taken their fight to the board of NHS Sheffield.
Worries centre on exactly where loved ones will go, because experience has shown better performing homes are often unwilling to accept challenging residents. Relatives are also fearful for the impact a move would have on their loved ones’ health and wellbeing, since research has shown mortality rates double when dementia patients are moved involuntarily.
“Can you imagine being inside their head?” Rita asks. “One day they are here, in surroundings they know, with staff they recognise, and the next they are in a strange place, all their friends have gone and with carers they do not know.
“I know one thing in all this - Joyce won’t survive another move. But it’s not just about me and Joyce, it’s about all the other residents and their families and the staff and their families.
“Worse still, we cannot prepare them for it, because as soon as you tell them something it has gone from their memory.
“There’s nothing we can do to prepare them for the suffering.
“And that’s heartbreaking.”
Woodland View provides 60 specialist beds for dementia patients.
Birch Avenue provides 40 specialist beds for dementia patients.
The top-up funding the PCT has agreed in principle to withdraw totals £2.8m - £1.8m at Woodland View and £1m at Birch Avenue.
There are 160 nursing staff, employed by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, who work across the two sites.
Woodland View is managed by South Yorkshire Housing Association.
Birch Avenue is managed by Guinness Northern Counties housing association.