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Inspirational care home manager shares remarkable turnaround story

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CHP finds out about the remarkable story behind Care UK’s Knebworth Care Home and its inspirational home manager, Vera Moreira-Henocq

Of all the many views from care homes I have visited, none can compare with that offered by Care UK’s Knebworth Care Home in Hertfordshire.

The 71-bed residential, nursing and dementia home’s courtyard faces out onto glorious rolling wheat fields. The idyllic farmland vista provides a wonderfully calming backdrop, which residents can enjoy from their rooms or by sitting in the home’s courtyard garden.

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On arrival at the home, I was greeted by the diminutive figure of registered manager, Vera Moreira-Henocq (pictured far left with residents and lifestyle co-ordinator Jane Eke). The 33 year-old, who at first glance appeared barely old enough to be running a care home, has a remarkable back story, having served as a medic with the Portuguese air force. Vera told me how she had to leave the air force after being shot during a tour of Angola. Vera, who suffers from MS, is a regular fundraiser for cancer having also previously suffered from the disease.

After worked briefly as a chef with Travel Lodge following her move to England, Vera made her way into care.

“I found I had a passion for looking after older people and so started working in care homes,” Vera told me.

Vera worked at several homes before becoming a night nurse with Four Seasons in Hitchin. She was then promoted to deputy manager before being offered the opportunity of becoming manager of another care home, Knebworth in Hertfordshire, which was then run by Abbey Healthcare.

“Being away from Portugal I wanted to create a second family in this country,” Vera told me.

When starting at Knebworth, Vera was under no illusions that her task would be easy, however.

The home was rated Inadequate at the time and had been placed in special measures by the CQC.

“It was chaotic when I came but I felt I could not leave it that way,” Vera said.

“I wanted to put things right.”

Armed with her own paper care plan, Vera achieved the amazing feat of taking the home from Inadequate to Good in all categories within 11 months. Following the remarkable turnaround by Vera and her team the home was acquired by Care UK in October 2017.

Following the acquisition, Care UK has provided the funding and the freedom to enable Vera and her team to continue to take Knebworth on its extraordinary journey. One of the first things her team set about was the redecoration of the home’s first floor, which provides dementia care. The corridor walls of the floor have been painted purple, which provides a calming effect for people living with the condition.

Led by Vera, further innovations at the home have come thick and fast. Vera’s wife, dementia champion and residential care manager, Colette, has created a calming indoor garden space on the home’s first floor, where people unable to easily go outside can sit and enjoy the wonderful view whenever they want.

While touring the first floor, Vera also pointed out tambourines which had been attached to the lower wall for the benefit of a dementia resident who was not able to use his legs and who preferred to move by shuffling on his bottom. Vera also showed me how the resident’s mattresses had been laid on the floor in his bedroom to ensure maximum comfort and safety.

In a further innovation, Vera’s team have created a Key Friend role that matches up each resident with a staff member with shared interests to encourage interaction and bonding. Pictures and information about residents and their key friends are provided on bedroom doors.

Vera explained how the Key Friend initiative helped staff learn about the extraordinary life stories of residents, which, as well as two former artists, include a ballerina and a former member of the House of Lords.

Vera introduced me to Gilly Seago, a reknowned former artist whose work has been displayed at the Southbank Centre for the Festival of Britain and at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Gilly told me: “What is good about Knebworth is that my family don’t have to worry about me. We love all the staff to bits.”

After having been given a poor prognosis when struggling with her health at home and in hospital, Vera told me how Gilly was now thriving at Knebworth.

Other notable residents include Lord Graham of Edmonton who was given the chance by Knebworth to return to the House of Lords for a recent visit with Vera and her team.

“Since his visit to the House of Lords, Ted has not stopped talking about the day – he had the chance to meet with many influential people and share his own experiences,” Vera said.

Thanks in no small part to Vera’s remarkable dedication, passion for caring and inspirational leadership, Knebworth is an extraordinary place full of extraordinary people.

Having achieved good in all areas, Vera told me how she hoped the home would go on to achieve Outstanding at its next inspection.

Having witnessed the dedication and loving care provided by Vera and her team, CHP can think of no-one more deserving of the CQC’s top accolade.

Tags : Care Home ManagerCare UK
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The author Lee Peart

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