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New vision of care

Louise Morse talks to Stephen Hammersley, chief executive of the Pilgrims’ Friend Society

Stephen Hammersley

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image: iStock

The budget for social care has been cut by 26% over the last four years.

A study by the Think Tank, ResPublica, anticipates the possible collapse of the care home sector by 2020. Christian charity, the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, has been caring for older people since 1807 and, instead of shrinking its operations, chief executive Stephen Hammersley describes a new project that will provide more family-oriented care for people with dementia.

LM: Pilgrims’ Friend has a high reputation for care, including for those with dementia. Why the need for a new Vision of Care?
: We take seriously the instruction in Colossians 3.23 to care ‘as working for the Lord, not for men’. There is so much that we are required to do (and are pleased to do) by the state, but we decided we needed to make sure that we had a vision for the care that we provide that is consistent with what we believe that God would have us do.

The pressures of regulation and under-funding by government can force care providers to focus on just surviving. Our Scripture-inspired vision keeps us on the ball – working hard and trusting God for the power to deliver this for our residents.

The ‘new’ vision is important because it reminds us of the ambitious bits of our vision that have always been there but that the pressures of 2016 threaten to squeeze out.

LM: What will be different about it?
: First of all we have re-affirmed our sense of calling to provide Christian care. Scripture places a high responsibility on Christians to love and to ‘honour’ older people.

With more people living with severe frailties towards the end of life, the need for homes that provide the specialist care to keep people safe and comfortable is increasing. We provide Christian-led care and a Christian environment that is supportive spiritually. We do the heavy lifting (often literally), allowing the family caregiver to concentrate on visiting, praying and providing expressions of love that it can be impossible to do when they are ‘doing everything’. Many find that they can have a deeper, personal relationship when the load has been lifted.

Secondly, it has been to re-affirm some of the things that are really important to us – having all of our homes led by a Christian manager and senior staff, building the routines in our homes around devotions and pastoral visits from local churches.

Thirdly, it has led us to extending the excellent work we already do in helping our residents see us as their home and us an extension of their family and to make this even more real for people living with dementia. Even the families of our residents treat us as part of their home.

Fourthly, it will see us looking for more opportunities to use what we are learning about Christian care for the elderly to help others who are caring for folk at home or in the community. We have already published some of the best material there is. We want to do more of this with our homes, so that, as well as being seen as needing volunteers and help, they are also seen as centres of expertise, with strong connections with local churches

LM: What will it mean doing?
: Running care homes is a challenging business at present! It is easy to get into a ‘stewardship’ mindset where ‘hanging on’ predominates and we respond to new regulations and challenges by cutting costs and skimping on investment in our homes.

Having a God-breathed vision means that as well as being very careful with money we are also thinking how we can improve our care to help more people – even as others ‘cut and close’. The plans that we have for improving our buildings, for example, cannot be funded by our ‘trading surplus’, but we believe that it is right to have separate space for people living with dementia in the context of an integrated community of believers. This is part of the vision and we are working hard and trusting God to help us achieve it.

LM: Will care be similar to that featured in a recent TV programme about the ‘Butterfly House’ method? What is your stance on lying to people with dementia in order to keep them happy?
: The answer here is yes and no. Our vision is to provide a consistently higher level of dementia care and for our homes to be even more like ‘family’ with residents (both with and without dementia).

We have started a pilot work that is exploring how to develop the training of staff: how to organise our homes more around people than around convenient routines, how to make the most of the space in our buildings, and how to inform and involve relatives and volunteers more effectively. A lot of this thinking was evident in the Channel 4 series that demonstrated the ‘butterfly method’.

However, this will not involve lying to people with dementia. We train staff to recognise and answer the emotion behind what the person is saying, and at the same time deflect and divert to something comforting. See our blog at: http://blog.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/dementiaville-is-it-ever-right-to-lie-to-people-with-dementia

At the heart of our approach is Christian love rather than a methodology.

LM: How is the current financial climate for care affecting P.F.? We read how care homes are continuing to close and plans for sheltered housing units are being shelved in the light of cuts to housing benefits, etc.
: We face rising costs and pressure on income as do other care home providers. Our costs will rise by around 30% over the next four years as a result of legislation.

Anyone and everyone who studies the demography discerns three major aspects: more people are going to need residential care and housing, ever more people are going to end up being cared for in the community even though budgets for that care are going to be increasingly limited, and there are going to be fewer care homes.

Part of our vision (as God allows) is to increase our care provision and the other part is to share our understanding from Scripture, and our own experience, that a vital component is to see older people as God intended – people with gifts and the propensity to be fruitful, and as such fully part of the solution to our ageing society.

LM: How much do you estimate it will cost to implement the new vision?
: Ours is a big vision for which we trust God. We know that we want to spend just under £20 million over the next ten years on our homes, and we would like to have additional donated income separate from our homes operations of £75,000 per annum to allow us to boost our production of resources and training alongside some other Christian organisations that think similarly. Jehovah Jireh!

LM: How will it look to residents’ families?
: Our homes and housing will be places where people want to make their home towards the end of their lives – in a community where the care is excellent and Christian worship, prayer and support is a core part of daily life.

Relatives will see this as a partnership that helps them carry on loving and caring for an older person in a way that is better and wouldn’t be possible if they were overwhelmed by the physical, emotional and other demands of being responsible for everything 24 / 7 / 365.

It’s very simple, really. We know that God loves his older saints, including those that are frail and need care. We believe our vision for even better care and family involvement is from him, and even though we work hard we trust him to provide the means for us to do it. And we believe that he wants to see the whole family of God involved in this. There is more information about us on our website, at www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk

Louise Morse is Media & Communications Manager for Pilgrims’ Friend Society and an en columnist.