RB Care Homes head demonstrates the importance of proactivity in leadership as Liaison Committee chair speaks out against passing the buck

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on August 21st 2020, 7:07am

Although the world is now beyond acquainted with Covid-19, “unprecedented” remains a buzzword in describing the nature of the pandemic. Indeed, it is a challenge that Ricki Bibi, one of the chiefs of RB Care Homes, had not anticipated or planned for throughout her 20-year career in healthcare.

Leadership in Focus

The key to facing the challenge head on, as Ricki disclosed in an interview with the Leaders Council’s Scott Challinor, was not to shy away from the challenge of the unknown and be proactive in facing the crisis head on as opposed to relying on guidance and assistance to come from elsewhere, even the government.

When describing her experience of managing RB Care Homes through the pandemic, Ricki explained that were it not for the proactivity of the care industry in pushing for access to coronavirus testing, it may not have been introduced in July when the regular testing of care staff and residents was rolled out.

She said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is something that we had never anticipated or planned for in my 20-year career in healthcare. It served us well as a team that we are used to thinking on our feet and we have managed to come through this so far.

“It has been a real pressure cooker but I have been in a fortunate position that I can draw upon experience from being coached by mentors in the public and private sectors and use our perspective and push that forward to figures in authority to help the country progress through this. One example of what I mean to say by that is that testing in care homes was not there earlier in the pandemic, and if it weren’t for us care providers putting our views out there and pushing for it, I doubt that routine testing in care homes would not have come in at the point it did.”

A lack of proactivity from authorities in bringing in regular testing in care homes did not come without a cost to the sector, as Ricki elaborated.

“We lost a lot of residents due to a lack of testing and we had to keep pushing for it to come in every day. We were also instructed earlier in the pandemic to take on discharged hospital patients without them having been tested, so rather than risk the virus entering the care home and having it spread, we were proactive by isolating these incoming patients for seven days. Of course, we were learning all the time at this point and as soon as we became more aware of how long the virus could linger on hard services, we were rethinking our own procedures and were in so many instances ahead of the curve compared to the standard guidance that was being produced.”

Ricki's words do ring true in the fact that RB Care Homes was among the first providers to lock down its care homes and introduce video messaging functions to connect residents with their relatives.

She said: “We were one of the first care providers to lock down all our care homes and explain to visitors that they couldn’t come into the homes. However, we were very conscious of the social isolation element of this and the impact it might have on residents, so we brought in video messaging functions using tools like Skype and Zoom to keep the communication channels open. Our priority was to keep our residents in a good headspace through this and we have done that.”

Ensuring that procedures were in place to safeguard the mental health of care staff was another matter which RB Care Homes sought to swiftly take charge of, and has once more yielded a positive outcome.

“Crisis management is what we do,” Ricki explained. “This pandemic has shown us how important contingency planning is, and as part of that we were collaborative with all our staff right through each of the care homes, being hands on as a management team and making sure they had the tools, resources and mental support to cope.

“Staff were faced with seeing residents die at a rate we had not seen before, and that was a mental trauma that many perhaps were not prepared to face. So, we spoke to the Care Quality Commission and Care Inspectorate Wales and the former has now implemented plans and systems to help staff prepare for and deal with mental anguish.

“It has made such a difference and I think as leaders and providers in the healthcare sector especially, we must continue to step up in our civil duty and understand we’re here not just to run a business but to provide a service to the community.”

Ricki went on to issue a rallying call to the sector to build on what it has learned from the Covid-19 situation and allow that to change the way the industry is run for the better, particularly in its communication with local authorities and government.

“Going forward, we have to build on what we have learned, take charge of situations and not go back to how things were. I am not shifting blame onto anyone but support from local authorities through this pandemic has been quite haphazard and in many ways I think we were more proactive and more prepared than others as a result, even in implementing processes as simple as making sure we had cash supplies on our care home sites so that staff could go to local stores and pick up supplies if required.

“When businesses and providers do things well that help them prepare for and deal with a crisis in a better way, we have to share this information and communicate to help us be more effectively armed as a country to face these challenges in future.

“For instance, guidelines coming from the government have not been clear and at times have been changing daily. We have, therefore, had to take charge of this again by deciphering these guidelines and distributing this information to our staff in layman’s terms to ensure continued compliance. Further to that, resources have been coming into the care sector very slowly.

“Better communication is so critical in future. Authorities and government should have asked us earlier what we need and provided support earlier and we would have given them the information required, and that was not done. Instead, we have often been provided with support in a ‘one size fits all’ way.”

Leadership Today

In keeping with the topic of taking charge over situations, the Conservative chair of the Commons Liaison Committee has this week raised concerns that the government is consistently passing the blame onto officials when things go awry, the Telegraph has reported.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four, Sir Bernard Jenkin said that a growing pattern in which “it is never the government’s fault” when things go wrong is likely to hamper effectiveness going forward.

Sir Bernard said: "Ministers have to make decisions - they either support their people or they get rid of them and get new people, and they can't have a halfway house.

"And I think that... I am concerned that there's a sort of pattern setting in under this government that something goes wrong and it is the permanent secretary's fault or it's some public body's fault, but it is never the government's fault."

Sir Bernard acknowledged that there was “frustration” over the manner in which the civil service is run, but stressed that only “free and open and trusting flow of information backwards and forwards from ministers and officials” could help it operate properly.

He said: "If the whole... discourse between ministers and officials becomes stifled in an atmosphere of blame and fear, then I don't think civil servants will be able to support ministers very effectively.

"Who is going to stick their head over the parapet, tell the minister the bad news, if they're going to get blamed for it? There needs to be a much more collaborative approach to running the government than has been demonstrated."

Sir Bernard’s comments come in a week where both the health secretary and education secretary have been accused of passing the buck, with Public Health England having been axed by Matt Hancock following criticism of its handling of the Covid-19 situation, and Gavin Williamson resisting calls to quit his job amid the exam results controversy.

Leadership in History

On August 21, 1959, US president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order proclaiming Hawaii as the 50th state of the union.

The signing came after the US Congress approved the Hawaii Admission Act and 94 per cent of Hawaiians voted in favour of statehood in a referendum.

Hawaii's admission into the US is annually commemorated by Hawaii Admission Day, which is celebrated on the third Friday in August. 

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
August 21st 2020, 7:07am

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