A CARE home manager has described their experience on the front line of the battle against coronavirus.

Romi Pinsent is the director of four homes in Hove, one of which, Carlton House in St Aubyns, has been struck by the virus, which is increasingly fatal to the elderly.

She said the home almost faced crisis point but was pulled from the brink by the “sheer dedication” of staff and the efforts of the local authority.

She recalled the moment she was told of the Carlton House outbreak, which started at the beginning of April and has now claimed the lives of three residents.

Ms Pinsent said: “I remember the manager ringing me up in hysterics, that was a difficult phone call to take.

“She was in a real state of distress and was trying to reassure family members and people’s relatives.

“It’s stressful and challenging on people’s mental health, I’m not going to say I haven’t had a cry every now and then.”

Ms Pinsent and her father Russell have five care services, with the four in Hove and a fifth in Bognor.

The Argus:

Ms Pinsent and father Russell

Carlton House is one of at least 26 care settings in Brighton and Hove which have registered an outbreak of the virus.

When it was discovered the disease was in Carlton House, which cares for dementia patients, the team sprang into action to limit the spread.

Ms Pinsent said: “First, everybody goes into isolation in their rooms – which is easier said than done.

“Then we start giving PPE [personal protective equipment] to health professionals, taking regular temperatures twice a day – in Carlton House we are checking six times a day.

“We follow robust procedures, everything is increased, we constantly wipe down the high-touch areas.

“A number of staff in Carlton House tested positive so we isolate them where necessary.”

Limiting the spread in a home which cares for people with mental illnesses comes with its own unique challenges, Ms Pinsent explained.

She said: “Dementia is a funny and awful illness.

“One of our residents has a good relationship with another resident.Just the fact that she couldn’t see her has meant she has now become a problem, telling people to ‘f*** off and screaming for hours. She is very distressed.”

Care homes have found themselves on the frontline of the battle against Covid-19.

The Argus:

Romi with residents at Conifer Lodge, 25 bed mental health service in Pembroke Crescent, Hove

It is estimated that up to 50 per cent of all deaths associated with the disease are happening in care homes.

Ms Pinsent said: “We worked through swine flu.

“When I found out about coronavirus personally, I remember having an argument with someone who was a bit blasé about it, that was when it was in Wuhan.

“I was cautious – maybe paranoid – and sending out emails in February to check on supplies.

“Care homes generally have supplies if we have any outbreaks, but coronavirus is a terrible thing.

“With other outbreaks, like diarrhoea or vomiting, people are normally bed-bound, but with this, dementia patients are still wandering around.”

According to Government data, the first coronavirus outbreak in a care home in the city was registered in the week starting March 10.

A month later, the disease had spread to 19 homes.

On March 23, news broke of the plight of Oaklands Nursing Home in Hove which was desperately pleading for help during an outbreak of coronavirus which, at that point, had lasted for 11 days.

The Argus:

Oaklands Nursing Home in Hove

Ms Pinsent said: “I really felt for Oaklands as it was terrible at that time, it was one of the worst moments for us.

“We have to remember where we were at that time, there wasn’t support for everybody.

“We have had that experience.

“The last six weeks have been very stressful, and we have been very close to crisis but we brought it back by the sheer dedication of people working from top to bottom, support from the local authority and agencies.”

The outbreak at Oaklands came 46 days after the first case in Brighton and Hove.

The Argus quizzed Health Secretary Matt Hancock at one of the daily Government press conference about the gap.

The Argus:

Argus reporter Jody Doherty-Cove at the Number 10 presser

Mr Hancock accepted there had been a “significant gap” in the time between the two events.

Ms Pinsent said: “Care homes have been overlooked without a doubt, central Government has been a shambles.

“I must admit that when we first heard information from PHE (Public Health England), it was that they would come into the home and conduct a full-on risk assessment, clean the home and move people out.

“That was eight weeks ago.

“I think it gave people a sense of security that if we got Covid, we would obviously have to deal with it, but PHE would take the reins.

“That quickly turned out not to be the case.

“They were overwhelmed as the resources just weren’t there.”

The most recent data shows homes are still registering new outbreaks in the city, but the rate of notifications has passed its peak.

However, the total deaths in the city’s care homes has more than quadrupled since the nationwide outbreak began and has now surpassed the total number dying in the city’s hospitals.

The Argus:

The total number of people who have died in care homes this year broken down by week

Ms Pinsent explains there is now much more support for services in the city.

For example, Brighton and Hove City Council has a centralised stock of PPE which is given to homes in the area should they need it.

The Argus:

Brighton and Hove City Council's PPE distribution hub in Hove Town Hall

She said: “The local authority is now doing everything they can, providing PPE to us for free when possible.

“We have got to be realistic, people in intensive care units need visors and gowns.

“I have my own opinion on the council on things such as parking and council tax, but they have stepped up when we needed them.”

The care home manager is planning to fight the disease in the “long haul”.

Many experts have predicted there may be a second wave of the virus and that we could be fighting it until a vaccine is discovered.

Ms Pinsent said: “I’m trying to be realistic, I’m very proud of everyone we have.

The Argus:

Romi with her care home stafff

“Although it is bad, we are doing OK and we have positive moments

as long as we can continue with testing and PPE to mitigate many of the risks.

“I hope when this is all over, we can have the celebration, obviously of the NHS, but also of carers, the police on the street, the council and the supermarket staff.”

  • The coronavirus Sussex Crisis Fund has been set up to help those affected by the pandemic. The Argus’s charity and American Express have each donated £50,000 to kick-start the appeal. Grants will usually be for up to £5,000. More information is available at www.sussexgiving. org.uk/apply. To donate visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/appeal/sussexcrisisfund