Thursday, 23 December 2010

Winding Down

It's been a strange week or two around here.  I've been ticking through my Christmas list (surely everyone has one of those) as well as going through the usual routine.  


One by one, things have wound down:  the sewing group doesn't meet until the 4th of January, the bookbinding group the week after, the sport centre where the running club meets is shut, Bill went to work for his last day this year, just to do some odd jobs, so I went with him.  

He has worked the last few years as the manager of a residential care home for people with mental health problems.  The company that owns the home has been re-organised and is now privately owned.  

The Board has decided that homes providing care at this level aren't sufficiently profitable to keep and so the home is now closed.  


Bill has had a fraught time, making sure his residents all have new accommodation and supporting his staff in finding new jobs, but everyone is more or less taken care of.  


It had been Bill's own plan to finish work this next summer, so all they've done is move his plans forward a few months.  

It's a lovely old manor house that housed seventeen to nineteen residents, most with their own en suite bathrooms.  


One room had a small kitchen and laundry facilities for residents who were practicing their independent living skills before moving into a flat of their own, with some occasional supervision.   


I don't know any one's names or details and though I've met a few of them once on a previous visit I wouldn't be able to come up with names or recognise faces.  


The only reason I know the names of some of the staff is because they tended to ring here at all hours to hand Bill some of the most perplexing problems and get his advice.  

Heaven knows what would happen to his residents if they were in the US; I haven't any knowledge of this area of work in there, other than perhaps the few shorts years I spent working as a file clerk for the welfare department.  


I expect I typed some of their American counterparts' names on index cards and cross referenced their and their family members' welfare case numbers, writing the list on the inside of a brown folder that would hold the their welfare case papers.

I know from Bill's work that even living in what many would call a welfare state, bad things can happen.  


You can have a heart attack at a really young age, like in your 30s or 40s, so severe that your brain is deprived of oxygen for long enough that you are mentally handicapped from there on.  


You can have a mental illness, the cause of which isn't really known, that requires the use of strong medication so that you can even begin to pass for normal.  Some of the side-effects of the meds can be such that you could be forgiven for being unsure which state was preferable.  


You could come from parents so incompetent that the state took you into 'care' as a child and you grew up in 'care', which for the age of these residents, meant in an institution.  A few stories I've read in the newspapers about those sorts of places are chilling, particularly when one considers the vulnerability of the residents; some of them never managed to become competent adults and are still sorely vulnerable.   I gather the average age of Bill's punters was about 50-60.

One of Bill's last jobs with the NHS dealt with serious cases, many of them angry, testosterone-fueled young men admitted with psychoses resulting from drug-abuse.  Some of them conveniently admitted to a place where the police could not hold them accountable.   Bill decided eventually that he was too old for that malarky and gave it up for work in the private sector; it paid a bit less, but the quality of life at work was infinitely better.

That said, some of the residents were difficult, spilling things, leaking fluids, resistant to bathing.  Stains on the bare floors spoke of soaked carpets and some of the rooms had a peculiar smell overlaid with disinfectant.  


Bill always explained to the staff that residents must be made to bathe and wear clean clothes, because to not do so would invite trouble to them when they went into the community, as they routinely did, to the convenience store or the chip shop or over to visit a relative.  If they were smelly and unkempt, it would be considered that no one cared about them and they could more easily be the target of bullying.  


Residents were made to get up and be dressed before a certain time in the late morning, else they didn't get their spending money.  They had to participate in keeping their rooms picked up and their belongings put away, as the cleaner couldn't clean otherwise.   Bill kept an open door policy that applied to residents as well as staff, so they could always air their complaints with the management, so to speak.

Bill also mentored his staff, encouraging all of them to pursue qualifications that would let them apply for better paid jobs.  He pushed them to take more decisions and have more confidence, but then as manager the final responsibility was always his, thus the phone calls at 2 or 3 am when a resident went missing, the heating or electrics stopped or they found a major leak in a pipe in the basement.  One of the problems with lovely old manor houses is they require upkeep and until Bill, a former buildings surveyor, came along, the house got patched instead of mended. 


The likely fate of the place, sadly, is to be torn down and replaced by a block of flats.  That said, a similar plight befell a house not far down the road and it still has 'For Sale' signs up a couple of years on, so perhaps this is not a given.  As Bill went from room to room, checking and locking before we left, he outlined ideas for how the present structure could be turned into a block of six flats.  If I had a choice between a modern box and a place of character with grounds and walled garden, I know which way I'd go - assuming of course that it smelled nice.

How about you?

1 comment:

Jo said...

I love the all the windows. I vote of use of the facility rather than taking down. But then the fixing up is not coming out of my pocket!