In celebration of this year’s Good Care Month, Care Choices had the opportunity to speak with Teresa Bennett-Johnson, Care Branch Manager at Audley Villages.

Teresa has worked in care for over 20 years, both clinical and managerial. She started her career in biomedical science at 18 and then moved to patient based clinical settings. 20 years on, Teresa is a firm believer in providing the care that we would want for our own family members and is unwavering in her determination to always put people’s needs and wellbeing first.

Good Care Month aims to uplift the profile of the social care sector and acknowledge the efforts of social care workers and the services they provide for people every day.

Q: Hi Teresa, it’s lovely to speak with you today to mark Good Care Month by finding a little bit about what you do and what you think good care looks like. Let’s start with what a typical day looks like for you.

A: Where do I start! I’m the Registered Manager here so I’m responsible for all the care activity that happens with my team. It’s quite a lot of responsibility making sure that everybody in the service including team members are managed safely and effectively. If I look at today for instance, my day started off with reviewing one of my clients because she’s on end of life care, so making sure that everything is ready for her day and all the appropriate medications are in place. Then, I went straight into a meeting with an occupational therapist for another client to make sure they have all the moving and handling equipment they need. This is a lady living with advanced dementia and mobility is reducing now so we’re putting measures in place to ensure she remains living safely in her own home. That’s a snapshot really but essentially, my role is to keep the services running safely in terms of clients, property owners and team members and make sure that everybody is protected.

Q: All-encompassing then! You’ve also answered my second question which means you can add mind reader to that list of responsibilities. Moving on, what do you think good care looks like for older people?

A: Essentially, for me the most important thing is enabling independence. We all want to be in our own homes and I’m the biggest advocate for that. All through my career, I’ve seen people in hospital, people in clinical environments and the one thing everyone says is that they want to be at home – that’s from somebody with a minor injury in A&E, all the way to someone on end of life or palliative care. Everybody wants to be in their own home and what I like to do is make sure that people can be independent in their own homes, regardless of what condition they may be living with. As long as they are safe and can be managed effectively in their own environment, then that’s the best place for them.

Q: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more! In those instances where it may be best for someone to live independently in the environment that Audley and other organisations can offer, what makes these good places to live?

A: With Audley, we promote independent living, people live in their own homes with the safety cushion that care is available for anybody that may need it, and this is invaluable. Some owners that live in our villages don’t actually have any care requirements. We can carry out unintrusive monitoring in these cases, such as having a chat if we see them around the village to check in and see if they are okay. That way, we don’t always have to knock on people’s doors. However, we’ve still got a safety net should something happen. In that case, we can respond straight away as we have a team on site 24 hours a day which is great in an emergency.

For people receiving care, obviously they are managed very closely so all of their plans are totally person centred. It’s always tailored to the individual – their preferences and how they want to live. We’ll tailor the care package to suit their needs based on all the intricate details of people’s lives and make sure we are delivering that care.

Q: That’s absolutely crucial. So, for older people that are considering their options in later life, do you have any recommendations that could help people make a decision that’s right for them?

A: What I would certainly recommend is going to actually visit the different settings that you may be considering whether that’s a care home or independent living. Go and spend the day there and try to experience what it may be like to live there. Talk to residents, talk to staff and you can generally pick up the vibe of whether it’s going to be suitable for yourself or a loved one. The best bit of knowledge you can get in terms of organising care for yourself or someone else is being able to speak to somebody that is already receiving that service.

Make sure you also look at reviews online but ask if you can speak to the care manager at any organisation you may be considering as well. If you’ve got that point of contact, then you can get the information you need, and it makes everybody feel more comfortable having honest and transparent conversations.

Q: Excellent advice! What do you think can be done to challenge negative public perceptions of care, especially for the benefit of people that may be considering their options in later life?

A: The trouble is that the only things you tend to see in the press are negative. The millions of wonderful things that organisations across the country are doing are rarely publicised and people working in care do not get enough credit for what they do. Especially considering how they have to manage their days and deliver care to people that is completely individualised. None of that is ever publicised, it’s just the negative and anything that may go wrong is reported as a ‘crisis’. There is a lack of funding, we all know that, but some of the things that happen that I’m aware of are unbelievably positive things that carers and organisations do to make sure they look after people. It’s simply not publicised enough, and I think that would make a big difference to changing people’s minds about the sector, but it doesn’t make a good news story does it!

Q: Unfortunately not, although that shouldn’t be the case! Can you tell me about the role of people’s communities in the delivery of good care, do they play a role at all?

A: Community is absolutely vital. GPs are starting to touch on social prescribing, although it’s already been around for a little while. Having social links is absolutely key to somebody, regardless of the condition they are living in. As we get older, we tend to isolate ourselves anyway so you tend to lose touch with friends, and you may not see family so often. Being able to keep up with social interaction and social engagements, whether it be through memory cafés, such as the memory café we have here which is open to the community, and having access to coffee mornings and other activities that we have in the village, keeps up that level of engagement and reduces the chance of isolation and depression setting in.

Each element of care is as important as the other. You’ve got the personal care aspect and supporting meal times for example, but sometimes the social element is overlooked, and you need to have it all in place as part of a complete care package to ensure that someone is able to live an enjoyable life.

Q: Just to finish, although you have touched upon it already, what in your view is the most important part of providing care to older people?

A: Making sure they’re independent for as long as possible. Like I said, I’m the biggest advocate for keeping people in their own environment where they’re most comfortable. They’ve got everything familiar around them and making sure that they actually have that choice to stay living independently with support if needed. Sometimes people, especially older generations, can look at ‘care’ as a bit of a dirty word, but when they do experience it, they don’t view it as care. It becomes part of the family if you like, they look forward to the visits and they get familiar with the teams, so continuity is obviously really important as well in terms of knowing the intricate details of someone’s routine. Enabling independence is absolutely key to providing good care.