‘Please think carefully before shutting this excellent respite home with its lovely carers’

Friday, August 24, 2012

Derby Telegraph

A CONSULTATION is taking place presently regarding the proposed closure of Ashlea Hostel, in Coronation Avenue, Alvaston. This building is currently used for respite care by more than 75 people with learning disabilities.

There are a large number of carers who are desperately worried about the possible loss of Ashlea and are especially anxious about losing the professional and highly dedicated staff who work there. We are aware that users of the service are to receive personal budgets but for many the facility provided at Ashlea is what they would choose for their short breaks. Most of those with severe learning disabilities do not accept change easily and would therefore find it difficult to adjust to a different service. Those with profound disabilities need a building-based service to cater for their very special needs.

  1. Emma Richards has profound and multiple disabilities and  enjoys staying overnight at Ashlea Hostel, in Alvaston, left.

    Emma Richards has profound and multiple disabilities and enjoys staying overnight at Ashlea Hostel, in Alvaston, left.

It is generally accepted that the Ashlea building has limitations as originally it was not designed for people requiring such high levels of support. However, inside it is always clean, fresh and well organised and the staff are friendly, welcoming, caring and helpful. There is a real homely atmosphere and Michelle Stevenson, the unit manager, and her staff have made some outstanding improvements.

You see they all have a real love for the job they do and this is what makes the difference. They really care about those who stay at Ashlea and this consistently shines through. The patience, kindness and level of care shown by the staff is clear for all to see. They have received training to a high standard and are very professional in their care of service users who present a diversity of learning and physical disabilities.

Our daughter, Emma, 33, has profound and multiple disabilities and once every two weeks she stays overnight at Ashlea. She is a charming and mostly happy young woman but as she is unable to do anything at all for herself she requires an enormous amount of care around the clock.

Feeding and giving drinks, daily personal care and the great effort of moving and handling are all very tiring for us, her parents, now that we are approaching our mid-sixties. Having this break at regular intervals enables us to continue with the care of our daughter at home and it should not be overlooked that she herself enjoys the change of surroundings and joining in with group activities.

She is unable to communicate in any way so it is very important to us that we feel comfortable leaving her with staff we value and trust – trust that has been built up over many years.

Many of the staff have worked with people with learning disabilities for some considerable time and this wealth of experience gives us a great deal of confidence to leave our special and much-loved daughter in their care.

We feel that Ashlea provides a unique service. At meal times pictorial menus are available to help the service users point to food they would like and the meals are cooked in a five-star award winning kitchen. The staff are fully trained to assist with the feeding of those who have swallowing or chewing problems. Fruit and drinks are available at all times and special diets have been put in place where they are needed.

Also, there are pictorial activity booklets for those who recognise photos so they can choose what they would like to do. Emma is unable to point to pictures and so cannot make her own choices but the staff go out of their way to interact with her and spend time with the activities she does enjoy – listening to music and singing along to her and repeating short phrases she recognises that make her clap and laugh!

Ashlea is well placed for easy access to shops and other amenities. Attached to the main building is a flat which has been refurbished and fitted with assistive technology enabling the user to live safely and enjoy greater independence. What a marvellous development!

Emergency care is also a big issue and knowing that Ashlea is there also gives us much-needed reassurance in case this is ever required for Emma. We have no-one in the family who in an emergency situation could take care of her and so for us this will always be a cause of great anxiety.

In the last few years, very large sums of money have been spent on Ashlea. It has had new windows, a completely renovated kitchen, new central heating and water systems. Doorways have been widened, new carpets fitted and it has had new furniture, soft furnishings, new special beds, improved shower facilities, the major installation of a large lift to access the upstairs, at some considerable cost, and a variety of improvements to the garden area.

A short while ago, we asked Councillor Fareed Hussain to visit us and see Emma in her home environment. We appreciated his coming to see us and also his understanding of our situation.

Emma has severe learning and physical disabilities, a complete lack of awareness of the world around her, complex epilepsy and periods of extreme tiredness alternating with over-lively difficult behaviour. Taking all this into account you will understand that round-the-clock care is indeed, very tiring.

We very much enjoy looking after her and feel privileged to have such a special daughter with her delightful personality illuminated with her lovely warm smiles. However the help we receive from the Ashlea staff is invaluable and throughout Emma’s life, it has never occurred to us that there might not be a council run service to lend a helping hand.

Can we therefore make a plea to the council? Please look at the situation very carefully. Here, in Derby, we have this excellent facility for extremely vulnerable people. It is giving invaluable support to many carers, some of whom, like us, are in their twilight years. This service is very much needed for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It is needed for those with severe autism and it is needed for others who have learning disabilities alongside other problems, who cannot easily find short breaks elsewhere.

I know there are others also who perhaps would be able to use their personal budgets to find different types of short break but they still have a desire to go to Ashlea to meet up and have fun with their friends.

Recently, in the news, there have been many incidents reported of failings and abuse within private care homes but here, in Derby we have a care service of excellence of which we can feel truly proud. It is hard to believe how we can contemplate losing staff who collectively have years of experience and who every day continue to demonstrate their dedication.

We believe that Emma herself would also like to make a plea. She cannot speak, but look into her eyes and you will see she is telling you how very much she enjoys her stays at Ashlea and seeing her friends and lovely carers there.