The coronavirus pandemic has affected most elements of life in care homes and assisted living environments. Rebecca Bridgement, from care catering company Radish, explains how it has had to adapt to cope with the new changes and ensure that the mental and physical wellbeing of residents is still treated as the highest priority.

The care sector has dominated the headlines throughout the pandemic, particularly so in recent weeks. As COVID-19 infections rise, the government has encouraged care homes to introduce further visiting

restrictions. This is despite warnings that

ongoing isolation from loved ones could be as damaging to residents’ health as the virus itself, with claims that loneliness and an absence of hope can have a devastating impact on health and wellbeing.

Against this ever-volatile and challenging backdrop, care homes and assisted living environments are having to deal with the impossible. They have been tasked with keeping residents safe without sacrificing their mental health, all while navigating a crisis like no other. Never before has care been in such a bright spotlight.

COVID-19 has changed the world, but for the most vulnerable the impact on day-to-day life has been even more drastic – palpable, in fact, for those working in these environments. Visits from loved ones have been and remain restricted and, for many, social activities have either been paused or moved online. This alone can feel alien to those who have limited or no experience with communications technology.

People working in assisted living settings have had to find new ways to deliver a positive experience. This is particularly true for catering. Instead of eating in a restaurant, residents are eating in their own apartments, and are therefore stripped of the social element that comes from dining with others. To make up for that, the team at Radish are always thinking of little things they can do to make people smile, to make mealtimes more memorable. For example, we’ve recently introduced a cupcake competition across all developments, where residents get to taste their delicious creations. It’s the small things that can make a big difference.

Nutritional health remains as important as ever. It has always been vital to protect food and food preparation surfaces from the spread of harmful bacteria, viruses and allergens, and this focus has understandably stepped up a gear this year. New practices and procedures have included taking extra care when preparing food and cleaning storage areas and designing training programmes that cover everything from handwashing best practice to operational transformation, all while reducing

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human-to-human contact and adhering to constantly-changing government guidelines. It’s fair to say we’re still far away from what can be described as normal, new or otherwise.

Operations wise, it’s been a challenge. We’ve had to think on our feet and adapt quickly. Not just at the beginning of the crisis but throughout the last six months, because information and guidance has been drip-fed since the outbreak first hit. The onsite teams at assisted living sites have had to pair up in bubbles in order to work safely and effectively. Food is prepared in the kitchen, then packaged in disposables and delivered to the doors of residents. We are really proud to have fully recyclable and compostable disposable products, so having to react quickly has not had any additional impact on our sustainability efforts.

Other necessary changes have impacted the way we run our business, too. For example, the operations team at Radish are no longer allowed into the environments that are catered for; they are having to manage their teams remotely which is a completely different style of management. We have really upped our communications efforts to support our teams throughout this time, and to ensure that the quality of our offering remains at an excellent standard.

The sector has been forced to transform itself. Everything from resident, visitor and staff behaviour, to operations and policies have turned upside-down. Needless to say, there are ongoing challenges and risks, and we still need to do our bit to protect each other and the vulnerable. While we can’t control the pandemic, we can control how we respond to it. Since catering is about tapping into the little things that give people joy, we believe this is our chance to shine and to truly make a positive difference to residents in care and assisted living environments.

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