There were tears of joy at an emotional reunion between a 92-year-old ex-soldier and his daughter after nearly three months of lockdown at the care home in the Swansea Valley where he lives.
Until then Stanley Crawley, originally from Resolven, who has Parkinson’s Disease, had only seen his daughter, Susan Clement, fleetingly through the windows at the Cwm Cartref Care Home in Commercial Road, Pontardawe.
Staff at Cwm Cartref, part of the Caron Group which has 14 care home across South and Mid-Wales, have created a novel outdoor visiting area in the garden so residents can finally meet their loved ones face to face after being wrenched apart for so long because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As some residents are hard of hearing, the gazebo has been rigged with microphones and headphones so they easily hear each other while keeping socially distant.
Former factory foreman Stanley was overwhelmed with emotion when he finally got to speak to daughter Susan, a former manager at the DVLA in Swansea.
He suffers from progressive supranuclear palsy, a form of Parkinson’s disease, which means he struggles to walk and his speech is quite poor.
Previously, the only contact Susan had was waving at her dad through windows when she dropped of treats at the front door.
She said: “”It’s not the same as seeing him in person and having a conversation.
“Luckily, Dad never lost his sense of humour and fortunately there is no signs of dementia or loss of capacity so he was able to understand the whole Covid-19 situation and why we had to go into lock-down. But that didn’t make it easier.
“It was wonderful seeing him in the garden, he had a tear in his eye.”
The initiative by the Caron Group has been welcomed by Care Forum Wales which represents nearly 500 independent social care providers.
Chair Mario Kreft MBE said: “The first and immediate priority of every care home is to safeguard the residents and staff and the staff working in the sector have risen magnificently to the occasion to shield social care and save lives.
“Care Forum Wales was ahead of the curve in urging home to lock down, against the advice of the Welsh Government at the time.
“The fact that most care organisations have kept the virus out of their homes is a great credit to them.
“The time has now come for us to facilitate safe, socially distanced meetings in appropriate settings so residents can be reunited with their families.
“The set up at Cwm Cartref and the other Caron Group homes is obviously working very well and has led to some very touching occasions like the reunion between Susan and her father.”
According to Susan, she fully understood the importance of keeping residents safe and why the care home went into lockdown even before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
She said: “They have done fantastically well as they have kept the virus out of the care home completely. There have, to date, been no cases at all.
“Everything has been very professional but I know they have also made sure there has been a lot of fun for all the residents.
“Staff have been dressing in fancy dress and getting residents involved in all sorts of activities to keep spirits up. We, as relatives, couldn’t have asked for more. “
She added: “Dad came here after mum died a couple of years ago. My mother, Stella, suffered from MS for 45 years so it was hard on dad.
“Dad, who served in the TA after the war and went to Palestine, and mum had two children, my brother Stephen and I.
“We are just so grateful to everyone at Cwm Cartref Care Home, all the staff, for keeping dad and all the other residents safe. We are so fortunate and to now be able to see our loved ones is so special. And the headphones and microphones work a treat.”
Mr Crawley added: “It has been very difficult not seeing my family. The headphones made it easier and I could hear Susan really well.
“The carers have been brilliant and had us all laughing. It’s not the same as seeing your family but I know why they had to keep us safe.
“I like it here, they take really good care of me, I moved here after my wife died. I miss her a lot.
“I dress up smart when I have visitors like Susan and Stephen. I like to wear my Dickie bow tie and put on my medals. I was in Palestine in 1949 with the TA and was in a field regiment before that in 1946 and 1947.”
Cwm Cartref manager, Melanie Harris says she has no regrets that the Caron Group shut their doors early to prevent the virus getting into the 48-room home.
She said: “I know it upset some family members at the time but it was definitely the right thing to do and the fact we have remained Covid free is testament to that. But the 16 weeks we have been under total lockdown has also been life changing in some ways.
“I will never take anything for granted ever again. The love and support we have had from the community has been overwhelming.
“We have had baskets of fruit delivered, letters of love and support along with all sorts of gifts. The whole community has come together with so much love.
“Until now we were only able to let families drop off treats and goodies at the front door and wave at their loved ones.
“We are now able to let families visit residents and have set up a gazebo outside in the garden.
“The plan now is to use one room inside the home where we are going to install a glass partition. It will mean we have a safe indoor environment so families can visit without having to use the garden. The weather in Wales is too unpredictable!”
Sanjiv Joshi, the managing director of the Caron Group said: “We closed doors to all visitors on March 12 and families were generally very supportive. Despite pressure from hospitals, we stopped admissions to new residents on the same day. “We put in strict infection control measures from the outset including daily screening of all staff members. We also procured sufficient supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE). Also our group clinical team designed and implemented Covid focussed infection control training very early in the outbreak.
“Family visits are vital for the wellbeing of both the residents and their families so we made it our top priority to introduce this as soon as guidance allowed outdoor visits and are delighted by the take up, the amazing outcomes and emotional reunions.”