Rights for Residents was founded by Jenny Morrison and Diane Mayhew in response to the traumatic experience of being forcibly separated from our own mum during the pandemic.
Refusing to accept the situation we repeatedly told our story in the media and connected with thousands of other families affected by this issue. We found they were experiencing the same feelings of guilt, powerlessness and despair that we were . We quickly launched a Facebook campaign group, petition and website and now have thousands of supporters across the UK.
How Rights for Residents Began
When Covid struck the UK in March 2020, Jenny’s mum Jean (Morrison) was living in a care home where she’d been happy and settled for three years. She can’t walk and has advanced Alzheimer’s Dementia.
During a window visit last August, Jean was sitting at the other side of the glass alone, in her wheelchair when we arrived. The window was closed and so it was impossible to communicate. It took a while for her to recognise us and she was very confused and visibly upset. Once it registered who we were she broke down and sobbed uncontrollably with her head in her hands and we were trapped on the outside unable to comfort her or ease her distress.
We decided then that we needed to start fighting to change this inhumane situation.
Jenny’s mum Jean has lived in a care home for four years. Before the pandemic she was happy and settled. She has Alzheimer’s Dementia and gets anxious and confused. After a major fall at home when she broke her hip, shoulder and knee she was hospitalised and as a result needed 24 hour care. We felt tremendous guilt at placing her into a Home but had no option. We could no longer meet her care needs. My partner Diane and I had our own business and managed our hours in order to spend two to three days at he Home to continue caring for her. My sisters filled in the other days and so she very rarely spent time alone.
Mum was well looked after by the manager and staff but there was very little in the way of stimulating activity. We worked with the Manager and other relatives to introduce a regular programme of activities that we organised between us. We raised funds to pay for entertainers, animal therapy, social events, parties, and a regular music and movement instructor. It made a huge difference to the residents and promoted a sense of community within the Home. Visiting became so much more enjoyable for everyone.
When lock down came the residents were not only cut off from their families – they were also denied the security that being part of this community gave them. They were doubly isolated as they were confined to their own small rooms for the best part of thirteen months.
Mum can no longer follow the TV or radio, she can’t read a book or magazine and so her days spent looking at the same four walls were torturous and lonely. The toll on our own mental health is beyond words, as we felt as though we were grieving for someone that was still alive. We tried to Skype mum when visits were banned but she was confused and bewildered by the technology. It just added to the distress. As a result we were forced to endure visits through a closed window.
How the touch paper was lit!
One harrowing window visit changed everything. Mum was sitting at the window alone, in her wheelchair when we arrived. The window was closed and so it was difficult to communicate. When she finally recognised us she broke down and sobbed uncontrollably with her head in her hands. We couldn’t comfort her in any way and she was heartbroken and alone.
She stuttered the words “I’ll never smile again … it’s been too long”. We were devastated, as mum’s nickname in the Home was “Smiler”! We were forced to phone into the Home to ask one of the carers to comfort mum, while we watched from the other side of the glass, powerless to help. Mum had no way of comprehending why this was happening. Her mental health was deteriorating rapidly. Without the emotional support of a family member she also lost the power of speech. When driving home that day we felt compelled to do something to change the situation for mum and other residents who were wasting away in a pandemic of loneliness.
We were convinced that every resident must have the right to designate at least one family member as an Essential Care Giver, who is seen as an extension of the care staff, that can visit and offer mental health and well being support in any circumstances, provided they are subject to the same infection control measures as paid carers.
We contacted BBC Radio Merseyside and told them of our plight and they featured our story the very next day. Since then our campaign has featured extensively on national radio, TV and in newspapers. We set up a Facebook Campaign Group as a way of galvanising others affected by the issue into an effective lobbying force, launched a national petition and so Rights for Residents was born.