‘It’s about fighting for the rights of residents’.
So says Geraldine Leavy, manager of a care home just outside Bristol whose staff team were shortlisted for a prestigious national award.
Elm Tree House in Keynsham supports adults with learning disabilities or autistic spectrum conditions.
Geraldine says she and her colleagues are ‘very vocal advocates’ for those residents, working with the Community Learning Disability Team to ensure they have full access to medical treatment – which, once received, can then have huge knock-on benefits to their quality of life.
So when a female resident began to withdraw from social activities, staff instinctively knew something was wrong, and set about trying to sort it.
Geraldine recalls: “We observed a dramatic change in her behaviour. Like many of the residents, she is a well-recognised and valued member of the local community but she stopped wanting to go out. At the same time, she would struggle to identify people when they entered a room, and she would feel real distress when she couldn’t tell who was there.”
Staff took the resident for exploratory eye tests, and it was discovered she had cataracts - when the lens develops cloudy patches which can lead to blindness. The resident was referred for cataract removal.
Geraldine says: “It was a battle at every stage to get the treatment, but we knew the operation would have immeasurable benefits. We were passionate that having a learning disability shouldn’t stand in the way of obtaining the necessary treatment, especially as she wasn’t able to easily express herself and tell us what she could or couldn’t see.
“Even though some of the consultants we saw were hesitant, we knew that she should be given the chance to have an enjoyable life full of meaningful activities, just as any other member of the community would expect. I wasn’t going to leave the appointments until we had secured the operation for her.”
After the successful procedure, staff and visitors noticed improvements in the resident’s physical and mental health. Geraldine says: “Her family have been able to see the benefits, and they have told me that she is happier now than she’s ever been. She is only in her sixties but her sight problems were prematurely aging her. This operation has given her the confidence to leave the home and be a valued member of the community again. How can anyone say that it wasn’t worth it?”
The team at Elm Tree House, run by Priory Adult Care - part of the Priory Group, the mental healthcare specialists - was shortlisted at this year’s National Learning Disability and Autism Awards for the ‘Supporting Older People with Learning Disabilities’ Award.
Elm Tree is rated as “Good” across the board by the CQC.
It is well known that people with learning disabilities can often have difficulty identifying and communicating health issues in medical settings, leading to unnecessary and avoidable health inequalities. Unfortunately, those with learning disabilities are more likely to have sight and hearing problems that may be undetected, and so go untreated.
Geraldine says her staff team have close relationships with many of the residents’ family members who frequently join staff when attending medical appointments for their loved ones. She says: “Families develop a real relationship with staff. Our residents’ parents are often very elderly themselves, and as such have their own health issues. That’s why it is so important for us to support them and help them get the very best care for their family member.
“And we believe in exciting activities at the home include gym sessions, swimming, art and cookery classes and hydrotherapy There are paid and volunteer job opportunities arranged in the local community, and residents attend clubs and other activities locally so the community can know and enjoy their company.
Rebekah Cresswell, Chief Operating Officer of Priory Adult Care, said: “Geraldine is a dynamic inspirational person, and together with her team they are a powerful force who lead change in a positive way.
“The wonderful work the team has done is testimony to what can be achieved when we stand up for what we believe in.”