Today our Prime Minister declared Coronavirus had reached the height of being a global pandemic. While for unbeknown reasons the general population are stocking up on life-time supplies of toilet paper (diarrhoea isn’t even a symptom of the super virus), disabled people like myself are frantically trying to gain as much accruate information as possible on what to do to minimise the risk of contracting the virus when many of us have carers/personal assistants in and out our home, sometimes multiple times per day enabling us to live our lives.
Frustratingly, access to useful information on what measures to put in place to protect not only ourselves but the carers we depend on has been pitiful. Our homes ARE our care teams workplace after all and technically those of us on Direct Payments are employers and with that, we have a duty of care to the people who are vital to our livelihoods. We want to make sure we’re looking after them, as much as they do us so it’s been incredibly disappointing to hear plenty of stories of DP users like me, ringing payroll, insurance companies, our Social Workers and hitting their heads against a brick wall as we, the minority this virus can be life-threatening to are met with shrugs and fobbed off to the next helpline. While other employers have been given specific advice to implement protocols to minimise the risk in the workplace, the powers that be that oversee us Direct Payments users have dropped the ball. Leaving many in a panic with no plan, while their PAs start to question our ability to manage their safety.
Thankfully, my Direct Payments liaison managed to answer my questions thoroughly and understood the need to put measures in at home given the crisis level. So I’ve written them down and while putting these measures in place to protect our family and care team, I wanted to share for those left in the dark from their own local authority.
1. Hand Washing Protocol
The government advises that employees should wash their hands immediately after arriving for their shift. A print out of the NHS handwashing guidelines should be pinned up by all sinks within the workplace (or home in our case) and followed to the letter. Taking particular attention to recite the ‘Happy Birthday’ song TWICE to wash for the recommended total time of 20 seconds with anti-bacterial hand soap that contains at least 60% alcohol.
2. Access to Prevention Supplies
It’s recommended that carers/Personal Assistants should have an adequate supply of medical gloves, masks, travel size hand sanitizers they can clip on their person and even pinnies which is up to the employer (us) to supply.
Note: Direct Payments don’t usually cover things like gloves, therefore most of us already pay for these necessities out of pocket.
3. When To Use Supplies
It’s imperative that we sit down and tell our team members in what situations are appropriate to use which supplies.
A) Gloves should be applied after the initial handwashing at start of their shift and replaced frequently, particularly after assisting with tasks involving bodily fluids like toileting, feeding tube care, urostomy or ileostomy care, use of respiratory equipment and after prepping food.
B) Hand sanitizer should be used between glove changes for ease when accessing the sink isn’t optional and periodically throughout the shift when not wearing gloves for example: supporting you out in the community, after THEY have gone to the toilet or had a lunch break etc.
C) Your PA/carer should use a mask to minimise the risk to YOU if they’ve come on shift with cold-like symptoms and you have no backup care. You should wear a mask if you’re exhibiting cold-like symptoms to minimise the risk to THEM.
D) Pinnies are to be used in situations where high-level nursing care is needed e.g pressure care that requires thorough cleaning and ointment, you have cares involving urinary catheters or stomas of any kind, you need assistance with suctioning or tracheostomy care and lastly if you have diarrhea and or vomiting.
As the disabled and elderly are high risk for COV-19, its recommended, especially if you have a pre-existing condition affecting the respiratory system or are immunocompromised that your carers/PA keep you in the loop by warning you if they present with any symptoms of the virus such as difficulty breathing, fever, headaches, and coughing. Reinforce they stay home until they’re fully recovered in particular being 24hrs fever free before returning to week.
If you are with a care agency, ring and ask to speak with the manager to remind them of your situation and particular vulnerability to the virus. Reiterate they mustn’t send sick carers to your home and send someone else instead. If a carer shows up coughing and spluttering inform them you will be turning them away and will make a formal complaint as not taking your health and safety seriously.
5) Have A Backup Plan!
Many of us living independently will struggle with a backup plan in general, however, now is an important time as ever to leave no stone unturned to establish one.
Things that may assist you is ringing all previous employees to ask if in an emergency they’d cover shifts, give extra incentives (within your means) such as providing food and drink or paying for petrol, sitting your family down and informing them you may need their support if care falls through and even friends. You may be surprised that a friend may come forward to help you out in an emergency.
I hope some of my readers have found this helpful and it brings peace of mind during this national crisis. Remember, we are all in this together… One of the most heartwarming things about the disabled community is that we look out for each other in times of need even if we’ve never met!
Stay safe, stay vigilant…