Whistleblower claims East Kilbride care home where 23 died from COVID-19 was 'filthy'
Our source, who worked at Whitehills Care Home, told us staff were bringing in their own cleaning supplies in a bid to control the COVID-19 outbreak.
The whistleblower previously told us how staff were at “breaking point” with 39 colleagues absent at the peak of the virus, with the home – operated by Thistle Healthcare – “packed” with agency workers to try and plug the gaps.
Things got so bad there that bosses issued a ‘red alert’ in April, telling the Care Inspectorate they did not have enough staff to care for residents adequately.
New figures have revealed that just under half of all 52 COVID-related deaths in Thistle-run homes occurred at Whitehills.(Image: EKN)
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Our insider said: “The place was just filthy, there’s no other way to describe it.
“A lot of us brought in our own disinfectant and I used to clean every surface from door handles, to light switches, keyboards – basically anywhere that folk touched a lot.
“It was a top to bottom clean at the start of a shift.
“I went behind a domestic one day and I cleaned everything again – the wipe was black.
“How they could say it had been cleaned properly is beyond me.”
And she also believes that serious staff shortages led to them not being able to provide the care residents needed in the worst affected by COVID units.
“When I was there, my unit didn’t lose anyone to COVID thankfully,” she told us. “But I know other units were stretched to their limits – more than once, one member of care staff had to cover two units. It was utter chaos.
“How can staff be expected to care for everyone, especially when you have residents that were so, so poorly? It should never have been allowed to happen. It’s a disgrace.”
The Care Inspectorate visited the home in May, after the East Kilbride News uncovered the high death rate and it was reported to them by Labour MSP, Monica Lennon.
But the appraisal they sent to the Scottish Parliament praised “good infection prevention and control procedures” at the home as well as its general cleanliness and hygiene.
However, our source said she was dismayed at the findings, adding: “I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I thought they were talking about a different home – surely.
“That report bore no resemblance to what I saw and my experience there.”(Image: EKN)
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Our source also claimed staff were told to tend to residents with suspected COVID without suitable PPE and that they were given just one medical face mask for a whole 12-hour shift.
She added: “Working in Whitehills was one of the worst experiences of my career – it was just heartbreaking.
“A lot of the residents can’t speak for themselves and that’s why I felt I had to speak out. We were the only voice they had and those in charge need to be held accountable for the mistakes made.
“The care sector was completely forgotten about – not only at Whitehills – but everywhere.”
The latest leaks come after the home featured on the BBC’s Disclosure documentary, titled‘The Care Home Scandal’.(Image: EKN)
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In the programme, Louise McKechnie described finding her late grandmother soiled in a dirty room with an open bag of PPE in her bathroom.
Frail Bridget Snakenburg contracted COVID-19 and died four days later having suffered a stroke believed to have been caused by the strain on her body.
Speaking on behalf of her family, Louise told the documentary the lack of care was “neglect” and that “no one should have died like that”.(Image: EKN)
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She went on: “PPE was meant to be discarded right away to prevent any more infections getting about.
“She had been in bed for a long time, there weren’t enough staff to care for her needs.
“Her room hadn’t been cleaned for a long time. The debris had built up. I’ve never seen a room like that.”
Louise’s family also claimed they found encrusted food inside the mouth of her gran.
MSP Monica Lennon said: “Louise’s family's story is heartbreaking, and sadly she is one of several families who have relatives in Whitehills Care Home who have been in touch with me over the course of this pandemic.
“I am far from satisfied with the answers that have been given by Whitehills Care Home and the authorities and I will keep fighting on behalf of my constituents.
“Too many have been left heartbroken by this awful pandemic, and the least they deserve is the truth.”(Image: EKN)
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Tory MSP Graham Simpson also said serious questions over care needed to be answered.
"The claims made in the documentary were shocking," he said.
"Louise McKechnie's family's story was heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.
"Her claims and that suggestion from South Lanarkshire Council that they found "no significant issues that would pose a risk to care home residents" appear to be at odds with each other. A full inquiry is needed into the issues raised by the programme."
Whitehills Care Home have denied the claims of our whistleblower over cleanliness and staff being given one facemask for an entire 12-hour shift.
The claims that one member of staff covered two units on more than one occasion have also been refuted and the operator reiterated that throughout the pandemic all government guidelines were strictly followed at all times.
It was confirmed, however, that a “red flag” had been issued to the Care Inspectorate over staffing levels.
But the East Kilbride News previously reported that the home said overtime and use of agency staff addressed any shortfall.
A spokesperson for Whitehills Care Home said: “Everyone at Whitehills feels a profound sadness at the loss of residents to COVID, and we understand only too well the grief experienced by their loved ones.
“Covid-19 is a global health emergency. Throughout the pandemic we have consistently and robustly followed the available guidance to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our residents and staff, including reporting absence rates and implementing contingency plans to maintain the appropriate level of care.
“We have apologized to Mrs Snakenburg’s family for failing to quickly remove used PPE from her room.
“Our infection control procedures have since been fully reviewed and endorsed by the Care Inspectorate which has praised our high standards of hygiene.”