FOR anyone with a parent in a care home, including the leader of Carmarthenshire Council, the news that the coronavirus has got into the homes raises anxieties over not being able to visit.
Cllr Dole’s mother has vascular dementia and is in a privately-run care home which her son said had done its best to keep Covid-19 at bay.
“It’s been six weeks since I’ve seen my mother,” said Cllr Dole, although he has looked at her through the window of the building.
“I can only commend the home she is in. The manager is heaven-sent.
“From day one they have been on the frontline fighting to keep the virus out, but it has got in.
“There is a segregated zone – and they keep residents in their rooms.
“I can only imagine the managerial requirements around toilets, food, medicines – it must be a nightmare.”
He described the staff as heroes, and said the situation had magnified to him the threat facing care homes everywhere.
Cllr Dole said it was vital that such homes, which relied on a certain occupancy rate, remained sustainable.
And he wanted care home and domiciliary care staff, who had previously tended to his mother at home, to have a more enhanced professional profile.
“We have to make caring a recognised profession, with qualifications and the ability to move along a grade,” he said.
“There should be equality with health (sector).”
Cllr Dole said the council and the various agencies it worked with had moved from an emergency response to a recovery footing over the past week.
“It’s that looking forward now to how we deal with it and get out of it in a phased way,” he said.
There are certain in-house matters the Plaid Cymru leader wants to safely reinstate, such as executive board, planning and licensing meetings.
“Then we can move it on to scrutiny, and the rest,” he said.
He also hoped the council’s annual general meeting, with a potential of physical as well as remote attendance, could take place next month as planned.
Cllr Dole was keen to ensure Welsh translation remained for these meetings, although the authority is asking the Welsh Language Commissioner about flexibility on this point.
On a wider note, a big discussion is around how schools might resume some physical learning, although guidance will come from Cardiff Bay.
“We are starting to discuss, once out of lockdown, how it’s going to work in real terms,” said Cllr Dole.
“I think we are going to have to be really creative. Where the average class size is 20 to 30, how do you keep the two-metre distancing? What about break times, lunch times, going to the loo?
“That might mean we would have to look at renting space near to a school.
“And there’s school transport – you can’t do social distancing on school transport.”
Cllr Dole said he would love some sort of physical learning to be in place next term for children transitioning from primary to secondary, and the years when pupils choose their GCSEs and their sixth form subjects.
But he reckoned that “something that resembles school” was unlikely before September at the least.
On the plus side, he said: “The reports I’m getting is that distance learning is going well, although that will differ from household to household.
“So far, no huge hiccups or complaints.”
Like all local authorities, Carmarthenshire Council has spent millions of pounds responding to the coronavirus emergency, including overseeing the construction of new field hospitals for Hywel Dda University Health Board at Carmarthen Leisure Centre, Llanelli Leisure Centre, Selwyn Samuel Centre and Parc y Scarlets.
“It’s difficult to give an exact figure – it’s an ongoing process,” said Cllr Dole.
He was confident in recouping the field hospital outlay from the health board, and felt reassured about other expenditure being repaid by Government.
“We have been given that assurance all along by Julie James (Minister for Housing and Local Government), to be fair – she didn’t want treasurers or leaders to be worried about finance,” he said.
“We have coded everything we are spending, and we send it in every month.”
He added: “But the one thing I would really like to sit down and discuss is the loss of earnings – it is a serious one.”
This includes loss of leisure centre and car parking revenue, among other things.
“I’m guessing we’re losing about £2.5 million a month,” said the leader.
“We’ve also got an ambitious capital programme – that’s front and centre for me. It’s about job creation and regeneration. I want to maintain that.
“I want assurances that that stays when we come out of it.”
Cllr Dole has been critical of the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline council staff, but said the situation had improved.
At one stage, he said, a director was put in the “invidious position” of contemplating whether care staff should be given full PPE or a lesser amount so that the dwindling supplies lasted longer.
“It’s an awful position to be in,” said Cllr Dole.
Another time, he said, the council worked out that care staff needed 76,000 face masks per week, but what was being supplied was “nowhere near that”.
But he said a PPE delivery arrived now from the Welsh Government every Tuesday, and that the council could request a further shipment.
“My director is happier,” he said.
The authority was also continuing to procure PPE locally.
Cllr Dole said he felt coronavirus testing for staff was also improving, and that he expected a new drive-through testing unit at the show ground at Nantyci, near Carmarthen, for NHS staff and other key workers to be up and running on Thursday.
He praised council staff for their hard work and adaptation to different roles, and said officers had processed more than £32 million of Government-backed business grants in just three-and-a-half weeks.
He also looked forward to council staff undertaking coronavirus contact tracing in the community when the system was rolled out.
“I’m totally confident we can do that properly,” he said.
Asked what kept him awake at night, Cllr Dole said it was protecting vulnerable people, such as those having to practise shielding for 12 weeks.
Keeping frontline staff safe, he said, remained a concern, as did the question of how Carmarthenshire businesses would recover.
Cllr Dole said the initial wave of coronavirus cases in West Wales might not be as bad as feared, but he was very mindful of what happened next.
“The way we get out of this safely is that we get it right, and keep the ‘R’ figure (the virus transmission figure) below one,” he said.
“The thought of a second wave and then a third wave at around Christmas, when the health service has a winter surge – that could be catastrophic.”