Duncan McLaren with his mother, Mabel
Yvonne used to come to our house twice a day to help Mabel, before looking after Mum at home became impractical. She knows many of the staff at the care home and I feel she still has Mabel’s best interests at heart. So when we bump into each other in the town, and Yvonne tells me that the mainstay of the night staff are lining up jobs elsewhere because they cannot work under the temporary manager, I listen.
It seems that the night staff are being asked to do some extra Hoovering, which they’re not happy with. And there’s an issue with the drying of laundry. But above all they do not like being ordered around in the way they feel they are being. This is serious. I know how difficult the previous manager found it to employ reliable night staff. What a disaster if three key members of the team leave at once.
That evening I visit the care home after 8pm. Mum just about registers my presence. Once I’m sitting down beside her, and helping her drink tea, I take stock of the lounge. Nothing much is happening, one could say.
“God almighty, God almighty…” mutters Molly, continuously.
Another resident, Hilary, gets up from her seat, saying: “I can’t stand this any more.”
I say something – anything - to her. She responds positively and approaches Mabel and me. She starts to make a fuss over Mabel, who tentatively smiles at her, though I know Mum doesn’t like to be patronised. Hilary starts to praise me for being such a good son. I ask her if she has family of her own. She tells me she has two sons and two daughters, all living locally, but they don’t come and see her. I tell her that that is a real shame.
Hilary turns towards Mabel again and makes to kiss her. Mum turns her head away and is no longer making eye contact. I say something to Mum, which triggers her fierce “shut up” reflex. But that’s OK, I can see she’s transferring the negative feelings she has towards the stranger over to me. And at some level Hilary understands this too. She backs off.
I’ve now worked out that two of the three regular night staff are on duty, and I can see by the way that one of them avoids my eyes that something is wrong. I don’t think she’ll talk to me though, whereas Annalise, who brought the tea for Mabel and me, might. And when I hear Annalise coming down the stairs towards the hall, I intercept her.
After a brief hesitation, she is only too pleased to offload. She confirms that two members of staff have been offered new jobs elsewhere and that she too is actively looking for alternative employment. I ask her what the problem is and she repeats much of what Yvonne has told me. She then asks me to follow her into the laundry room. She points out the tumble dryer, which is the only working dryer. Only it’s not working, the air inside the revolving drum is cool. She’s talking nineteen to the dozen as she opens the door to the adjoining room which shows towels and clothes spread out everywhere. I get the idea. The drying is having to be done in a ludicrously labour-intensive way that can take from one night shift to the next, by which time there is a new batch of washing that must be dried.
On the way out, I give Mabel a hug and tell her when I’ll be seeing her again. I note in passing that every garment she is wearing will have to be laundered, as usual.
That night I write an email to head office that is designed not to land any particular member of staff in trouble, but neither to shirk from the truth as I understand it. I inform the director of operations that the night-staff are about to leave en masse and that their primary problem seems to be with the autocratic style of management of the temporary manager. I add that I have not heard one voice in support of the new regime, either from staff or residents or relatives.
The next morning I get an email from head office thanking me for passing on my concerns and suggesting that the situation is under review. As it happens, I meet one of the off-duty carers - a regular on the day shift - in the streets of the town. And, lo and behold, up pops a voice in support of the new manager. Sarah tells me that, in her opinion, the night-staff have long had it easy compared to the day-staff. She describes the temporary manager’s regime as hard but fair, and tells me she is beginning to get used to it.
Dilemma. Do I let head office know about this latest development and risk sending mixed messages? No, I think it is appropriate that I wrote once about my concerns and that my main concern still stands.
So instead of writing any more emails, I turn up at the care home in the car with Ian at 2.30pm, and we take Mabel out for a drive.