Care home as community.
If you look up the dictionary you get loads of definitions for what a community is. Its described variously as a unified body of individuals who have common interests living in a particular area; or its defined as the geographical area itself or pictured as a body of persons of shared and professional interests scattered through a larger society, and so on.
But actually, when I think of the word community it combines all that sense of space and place, of people and belonging. When I picture community, I see faces and folks, a sense of togetherness and attachment; a sense of arrival and coming home rather than travelling to a destination. For me a care home is a superb living example of what a community is all about.
Today is Care Home Day and I am very pleased to be able to write a few thoughts on what a care home community is all about.
In the last few months we have seen witnessed in our care homes a story which has shown the absence of the characteristics which make up a normal care home. These are places of interaction and engagement, full of banter and gossip; spaces where people come and go, of busyness and belonging. If you want to seek solitariness and silence your average care home is probably the last place you should go.
In the last few months, however, as the pernicious Covid19 virus began to impact upon the whole world, care homes have become places of quiet; of curtailed activity and limited engagement; locations which have sought to isolate individuals in a desire to protect and keep them safe. Far from being places of busyness they have become withdrawn, far from being places which reach out and pull the wider community in, they of necessity have had to shut their doors and seek to keep out family and friend, young and old alike.
That is one story of the last few months. It is a hard story whose lessons we must learn and whose pain we must feel. But care homes even in these hard times have still been places of community. They have seen and heard words of love, care and compassion; they have witnessed the gentle presence of comfort in the midst of fear; solace at times of sadness and reassurance in moments of anxiety. The staff in our care homes have gone beyond calculation in their dedication to those they support and residents themselves have sought to support one another in these challenging days.
A community is not just a physical place or even the gathering together of people with shared interest. A community is a place where you can be wholly who you are without pretence or mask, where your humanity can be honest, and you can be comfortable in your own skin. I have lost count of the folks who have said to me that moving into a care home was the best thing that they had done in their life. From loneliness they have found company, from isolation they discovered a sense of togetherness, from mental distress they gained restoration. That is the real sense of community in care homes in ordinary times.
It is hard to think of normal times when we are still in these strange days but despite all attempts of Covid-19, there is a beating heart within a care home which is pulling us back to those better times. There is a rhythm of comfort and care which despite challenge reminds us that care homes are communities where the best of what it means to be human is on display every day. Care homes will again become places where song and togetherness, exercise and competition, encounter and memory sit together and ruminate over time. They are places where people dream not solely of the past but of what tomorrow might hold. They are places where there is such brilliant original artistic and literary creativity. They are places where the young learn the lessons of age and where those old in age are enabled to become young in heart. This is the real story of community in our care homes.
So today as we recognise Care Home Day, we thank all involved in the last few months, we remember the sadness , loss and the hurt, but we also promise to work together in all our local communities to place our care homes in the heart of not just our concerns but of our daily living. Let us wrap round our care homes and let them find a place in the centre of all our communities.
Dr Donald Macaskill.