How we responded to a coronavirus outbreak over Christmas

22nd January 2021

 Our incredible staff at our service in Suffolk moved into the service over Christmas and New Year to protect the people we support when we had a coronavirus outbreak. 

Angela, FitzRoy Director of Operations said: “We have seen this exceptional commitment across so many of our services throughout the pandemic, but to give up their Christmas and New Year and not be with their families…. well, we were blown away, they really did put the people we support first. An enormous thank you to them, and to all our staff – it has been 11 months of anxiety and stress, and you are all incredible.”

We caught up with Deputy Manager Harry, and he told us how he managed the coronavirus outbreak by moving into the service for the whole of Christmas and New Year with three other staff – they gave up their family Christmases to support the four men at their service. And Harry is prepared at any moment for another outbreak.

Our Bury St Edmonds supported living service is home for four men with autism, Richard, Thomas, Neil and Adam. Harry said: “When two staff members tested positive, I knew that meant we were going to be short on staff but we just had to make do, we couldn’t risk the people we support contracting the virus. But within half an hour another member of staff had received a positive coronavirus result too, and that was when I started to get worried. Suddenly we were down to three staff  me, Egnes and Davison, when we usually have five. 

I was panicking a bit because even as our tests came back negative we knew we had been in contact with the positive members of staff since getting the tests. The hardest part was not knowing what was coming, and what the impact would be on Richard, Thomas, Neil and Adam. I wanted to make sure they were all alright, I’ve known them all a long time now, since I started working here in 2011. 

Thankfully my staff were so committed, the three of us who had tested negative moved into the service and self-isolated with our residents. We had to start working onetoone with the people we support, as opposed to two-to-one like usual. All this time I was thinking about what would happen if we received positive test results, and how the people we support would cope without us if we had to send all new staff in. It was a real worry.

My manager Christina was checking in on us multiple times a day, we had staff dropping off anything we needed and we had so much support from FitzRoy’s coronavirus response team. I couldn’t have asked to be better supported. It made us feel like we were all in it together. 

Between the three of us we had to cover 24 hours a day, so to help us manage this, we rotated in two hour slots to get up through the night to make sure the people we support were okay. On the 23 December we had a fourth staff member join us, Simon, which definitely made a difference, four is better than three! 

“We celebrated our Christmas together, and at that point I thought the people we support were likely not to have coronavirus as they weren’t presenting any symptoms. My team were just brilliant through the whole thing, and so far our tests has come back negative thanks to their hard work in keeping coronavirus out. There is no way I could have managed on my own. The hardest part was not knowing whether you were negative or positive, and if I was positive, what would be the outcome? What would happen to the people we support? 

“As well as this, we also had to explain to our residents why they couldn’t go home for Christmas. Richard was really excited to spend it with his Nan, but luckily he accepted the news really wellHe actually felt more sorry for me that I wasn’t going to be with my family for Christmas! We made sure that his presents were dropped off and did the best we could at celebrating Christmas together.” 

Senior support worker Egnes said: “Until some of my colleagues tested positive, coronavirus had been a ‘farfetched issue’, it quickly hit me very hard that this ‘farfetched issue’ was right at our doorstep. My first reaction was panic, suddenly, all I had been reading or hearing about coronavirus felt very real. We were confronted with a situation that could easily turn into a crisis, and this jolted me from being reactive to proactive. So when my manager Harry asked ‘who is going to be in isolating with the people we support’ I jumped into action because I realised that my loyalty, commitment, values and beliefs were being put to test more than they ever have been. 

“It was really important for us to look out for one another, to respect, communicate and to admit when you’re struggling and realise it is not a weakness to do so. This isolation made me realise the importance of one another at work and this brought me closer to my colleagues because we were in it together and survived together.” 

Angela said: “We know there is light at the end of the tunnel – 20% of our staff and 9% of the people we support have had their first vaccination – through our continued commitment to working together, we will get there. The hard work, dedication and team working going on across FitzRoy has been a revelation and I am so proud of everyone.”