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Caregivers of COVID - Carol Ashcroft

10 June 2021 Blog
Meet our caregivers
The physical, mental and emotional demands of supporting aged care residents with COVID-19 was enormous. There was also an importance on the ‘pause ritual’ to honour the lives of those who had died. Carol, St John of God Berwick Hospital’s Senior Pastoral Practitioner, shares her experiences as a St John of God Health Care caregivers working in the middle of a pandemic.

At the start of the year when our hospitals were preparing for potential COVID-19 residents, the Director of Mission Integration South East Melbourne, Rhonda O’Connor, discussed with me the possibility of working with COVID-positive residents. I didn’t know it was going to become a reality until I received a call from her at 1pm on Tuesday, 29 July 2020 saying that 30 aged care residents were in transit to Berwick, a COVID-positive unit was being established, and a pastoral practitioner was needed for that ward. I reported for work two hours later.

Most days started at 8.30am with a briefing about the pastoral needs of the unit. As the number of caregivers with direct access to COVID-positive residents was strictly limited, my role was to liaise with the nurses about the residents’ pastoral needs and to be the primary contact for residents’ families. Due to the unique circumstances, the pastoral needs of all of our caregivers on the unit were also considered.

The next task was to order lunch - since no personal food could be brought into the unit - and I then donned my PPE for the day. Working in PPE was a challenge because, being new to the hospital, I was meeting caregivers for the first time while hidden behind protective clothing. After that I attended the medical and nursing handover for the day. 

A 45-minute lunch break was regulated, with a maximum of five people permitted in the tea room at one time. This allowed time to check in with caregivers on the unit – the doctor, the nurses, the environmental staff and the catering staff.

It was important for me to be available to caregivers. During lunch I was able to listen to their concerns, discuss their needs and encourage them to take up the Hotel for Heroes (accommodation outside of home) option if they were worried about possibly infecting their family members at home. Highlights of lunchtimes were times spent laughing together despite the challenges of life on the ward.

All families of new residents were contacted within 24 hours of transfer, and then at least twice weekly, which proved a colossal task. In many cases, families had received little information about their loved one in the weeks preceding the move to Berwick and expressed feelings of frustration, uncertainty and concern about the move from the residents’ home to hospital, and distress at not being able to visit more.

Empathy, patience and understanding were required, as was a quick adaptation to provide care via the telephone and to work with each resident’s allocated nurse to make family Zoom calls a reality.

I also liaised with both the families and the aged care residences about essential items needed for each resident - such as glasses, hearing aids and clothing - as many were transferred only in the clothing they were wearing at the time.

In addition, I collated a list of the interests for each of the residents and worked with home-based volunteers to provide resources for different activities.

Many months have passed since Berwick opened its door to those aged care residents and opened a COVID-19 ward. On reflection, that time is one never to be forgotten and will always fill me with a deep sense of pride and gratitude that I was able to play my part.

Caregivers of COVID

The Caregivers of COVID series shares the stories and experiences at St John of God Health Care that made most of 2020 so extraordinary.

St John of God Berwick Hospital Senior Pastoral Practitioner Carol Ashcroft
Carol Ashcroft - Senior Pastoral Practitioner
Carol is a Senior Pastoral Practitioner at St John of God Berwick Hospital, a role she has held for the past two years.