Supporting care home staff during the coronavirus crisis

Revd Sally Rees has been instrumental in an ambitious, quick-turnaround project by BRF – to publish five new booklets to help care home staff provide spiritual support and comfort to residents in the absence of Anna Chaplains, ministers and pastoral visitors. Here, Sally describes how the booklets came to be written and why there is such a need for them.

New ‘A Carer’s Guide’ series fast-tracked

Care staff work round the clock, so they are in the best position to offer people spiritual support when Anna Chaplains are not there and when visiting is so severely restricted.

In response to these new circumstances, members of the Anna Chaplaincy network have written a series of booklets to help those on the front line – both managers and carers – to provide for the spiritual needs of those they look after.

Ready-to-use, road-tested resources

The series of five booklets – ‘A Carer’s Guide: How To…‘ – provides information and advice on how to offer spiritual care in a variety of contexts. The booklets are laid out in easy-to-follow steps that can be read as a whole or dipped into for helpful reference. Each one also provides ready-to-use, road-tested resources, so no one needs to start from scratch when planning, for example, a short church service or a memorial service for those who cannot attend a cremation or burial.

These are truly extraordinary days and care staff have been stretched to their limits, and beyond.

During these difficult days, the effects of Covid-19 on care home residents and staff have rarely been out of the news. There have been so many heart-breaking deaths, both of residents and staff, but also hundreds of heart-warming stories of carers ‘going the extra mile’ in looking after those in their care, even when, exhausted and grieving, they’re also coping with the fear of falling ill themselves and carrying the virus home to loved ones.

Even in those homes that have managed to avoid the virus, care has changed beyond recognition, with severe restrictions on those who can enter the home and the need to wear personal protective equipment. These are truly extraordinary days and care staff have been stretched to their limits, and beyond.

It’s no accident, therefore, that the first of these new booklets is for carers themselves. I wrote ‘How to take care of yourself in stressful times’ in response to the special needs of carers at this time.

Comfort and spiritual care now falls to the carers

Until care homes closed their doors to visitors in the middle of March, in many places across the UK Anna Chaplains, ministers and pastoral visitors frequently dropped by. They had regular contact with individual residents and groups of residents and offered spiritual care to those of strong, little or no faith at all. They listened to people’s stories over a cup of tea, joined in social activities, had fun together and generally built good and lasting relationships with residents. For those who wanted it, they were able to pray with individuals and gather together for group services of worship, hymn singing and Holy Communion.  

But none of that is possible at this time. Anna Chaplains and ministers are doing their best to keep in touch by phone, by writing postcards, by sending resources to individuals and care homes, and by offering church services by phone and internet. But day and night comfort and spiritual care now falls to the carers.

While all carers know that the needs of those in their care go beyond the physical, and include the mind and spirit, not all feel confident in offering overtly spiritual care. It’s to help them, therefore, that the other four booklets have been written.

Not all carers feel confident in offering overtly spiritual care, so it’s to help them that the booklets have been written.

I have written ‘How To worship with individuals in your care’ and ‘How to have a memorial service at home when you are unable to attend the funeral’. Anna Chaplaincy founder and pioneer Debbie Thrower has written ‘How to help someone spiritually towards the end of life’, and Catriona Foster has written ‘How to worship with a group of residents’.

When I first thought about writing something for care home staff my idea was that I would just email it to all the carers that I knew locally, but then early on in lockdown we had a meeting of Anna Chaplaincy regional leads on Zoom and the idea just took off! So here we are, eight weeks later, about to publish a set of five booklets for care homes. God’s amazing! I never saw this coming, but it feels wonderful. We all just hope they’ll be a blessing to people because that’s our only aim.

About Sally Rees

Sally Rees is the Anna Chaplaincy lead for Wales, currently awaiting her formal commissioning in this role, as well as her ordination as a priest, as soon as lockdown restrictions are lifted. After retiring from a career in nursing, both on the wards and as a lecturer, Sally offered the next ten years to God, which is how she came to play a key role in the development of Anna Chaplaincy.

Anna Chaplaincy Carer's Guides

A Carer's Guide

Available for preorder Monday 13 July

How do we look after ourselves and others better in the wake of a health crisis such as Covid-19? This Carer’s Guide series offers practical help and guidance to carers who find themselves needing to provide spiritual support to older people or others in residential care.

Anna Chaplaincy for older people

Anna Chaplaincy for Older People offers spiritual and emotional care for those in later life.