An 85-year-old Nan with advanced Alzheimer's is facing a distressing third care home move in four years – in a fresh blow after losing her husband of 66 years to coronavirus.
Freda Johnson is one of 83 residents that will be displaced after the shock news that two Liverpool Council-built care homes – the first the local authority has built in 25 years – are to close in October after less than a year of operation.
Shaw Healthcare, which operates Brushwood and Millvina care homes, in Speke and Everton respectively, told staff and families last week that it would be closing both homes due to an increasing number of vacancies since the start of the pandemic.
For the family of Freda Johnson, the shock news was a hammer blow in a year in which they have already suffered so much.
Freda's husband of 66 years, Cecil Johnson, known as Ces, died in April having contracted covid-19 during a visit to hospital.
The loving couple's 66th wedding anniversary in March was the first they had ever spent apart as Ces battled the virus in hospital.
During a hugely difficult period for the family, they at least felt reassured that Freda, who has advanced Alzheimer's and requires complex care, was safe and being well looked after at Millvina House in Everton.
The state-of-the-art dementia hub, one of the two opened to great fanfare by the city council in October last year, was the third home Freda had moved into in as many years because of the closures of other homes.
The were delighted to secure a place for her at a facility that the city had invested in and were delighted with the level of care was receiving from staff – especially because they have not been able to visit her since the coronavirus pandemic began.
But after Shaw Healthcare announced that the homes will be closing, those hard-working staff are now facing redundancy and Freda's family are facing trying to find a fourth new home – this time with a dangerous virus still in circulation.
Freda's family have been left in shock, scared and with questions they want answered.
Grandaughter Laura Donovan-Hall said: "It's just awful, the other two homes she lived in closed and now this is happening during the middle of a pandemic.
"We were heartbroken to lose my grandad to the virus in April, they had been married for 66 years, it was so hard for everyone – I had to say goodbye to him on the phone.
"It has been really hard not seeing my nan all these months, but we have felt reassured that she has been safe, the staff have been unbelievable and the home has been covid free – so it was a total shock to hear this news."
"As a family we are so scared at the prospect of moving her in October with the virus still out there and the potential of a second wave – we want to know how people think that can be safe."
A number of families of affected residents are now working together on a campaign called 'Their Voices' to fight the decision to close the homes.
They are demanding answers from those involved in the decision about what has gone wrong at two homes that the city had invested so much in and why more can't be done to stop the sudden closure.
Ms Donovan-Hall said: "We can't understand how this can have happened so soon after the homes opened. They have said it is because of the pandemic but we were actually told there were problems as early as January, before the pandemic started here.
"The council has now said it is already in discussions about a new use for these buildings, we would like to know what this is and why they can't continue to be used as care homes.
"We feel like this city knows when something isn't right and we want people to back us in our right to keep these homes open and keep our loved ones safe."
We put a range of the questions being asked by Freda's family to Liverpool Council.
A spokesperson for Liverpool City Council said:“We appreciate this is a really difficult and worrying time for residents and their families, and our staff are working closely with the homes to make sure that moves to other homes are as smooth as possible.
“Sadly, we are unable to take over the running of Brushwood and Millvina House as we do not have the experience of running this type of complex specialist nursing care service.
"We are open to hearing from any provider who may feel they can, but they would have the same challenges faced by Shaw.
“At present, we are not able to comment on the confidential discussions we are having on the future of the buildings, but we can reassure people that they will remain in the health and social care sector."
The council confirmed that it did have discussions with Shaw Healthcare in the initial months of the contract relating to a 'slower than anticipated fill-up rate in the homes' and said both parties worked together on actions to address these issues.
The spokesperson added: “The pandemic has resulted in a decrease in occupancy across the sector. We worked hard with Shaw Healthcare to find a solution, but discussions took place at the end of July which concluded with a joint agreement for Shaw to exit the lease.
“Before announcing the closure, we had to develop a plan in partnership with Shaw Healthcare which included allocating a team of social workers to support residents and their families, as well as Shaw needing to consult with their staff.
“We are not able to comment on Shaw Healthcare’s financial situation, but they were chosen after a competitive tender process in 2017 and legal and financial due diligence was undertaken.
“We would like to thank Shaw Healthcare for the service that they have provided at the two homes. We know that it is valued by the residents and their families and we do understand how difficult this is and are doing all we can to support them.”
Find local coronavirus cases where you live
Mike Smith, Shaw's chief operating officer, said the pandemic had resulted in "unsustainable losses" for both homes.
He said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK and the care industry has been badly affected by this deadly disease.
"We operate Millvina House and Brushwood on a leased basis from Liverpool City Council with additional costs such as staffing and the provision of equipment also being met by us.
"Since the start of the pandemic we have made significant and unsustainable losses brought on by the change in market condition.
Helplines and support groups
The following are helplines and support networks for people to talk to, mostly listed on the NHS Choices website
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, or if you're worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com.
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won't show up on your phone bill.
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
- Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
- Hub of Hope is the UK’s most comprehensive national mental health support database. Download the free app, visit hubofhope.co.uk or text HOPE to 85258 to find relevant services near you.
- Young Persons Advisory Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services for Liverpool’s children, young people and families. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Paul's Place – providing free counselling and group sessions to anyone living in Merseyside who has lost a family member or friend to suicide. Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: email@example.com
"Despite working closely with the council to try and put the financial performance of both services on a stronger footing we have been unable to find a workable, long term solution. Following much effort on behalf of Shaw and Liverpool City Council we came to the mutual conclusion that delivering care using these buildings in the current climate is no longer tenable.
“We briefed our 132 employees today across both sites to inform them that they would be entering a 45 day consultation period and provided them with information of how we would support them through the process.
"The 83 affected residents and their families were briefed afterwards with representatives from Liverpool City Council in attendance to reassure them that there would be fully supported whatever the outcome.”
Around 4,500 people have signed a petition to stop the closure of Brushwood and Milvina House, you can add your name here