The warmth between staff and residents was the first thing to strike me at Priory Grange Potters Bar, part of independent provider The Priory Group. There are two parts to this Hertfordshire site: the Aspen unit and the Hadley unit. Aspen is a specialist residential nursing home registered under the Commission for Social Care Inspection. It has 66 beds for physically disabled adults with acquired brain injuries, multiple sclerosis (it has preferred provider status from the MS Society), degenerative disorders, mental illnesses, challenging behaviour and complex needs.
Recently opened is the 14-bed Hadley unit, a hospital registered under the Healthcare Commission, for adults with mild to moderate learning disabilities combined with challenging behaviour or mental health problems.
Respectful to residents
Each floor of the building has a dining room, areas with comfy chairs and TV, and bedrooms with alarms by the bed, TVs, en suite toilets and basins, some with showers. Residents are free to come and go as they please. As home director Janet Pannell says: “It’s not for us to decide what they want to do.”
As support service manager Liz Parkhill showed me around, there was clear affection between her and residents who came over to chat. Responsible for catering, maintenance and housekeeping, Parkhill says she reminds her staff to be respectful at all times to residents. “For example, I tell them to always knock on someone’s door and call before entering, even if they are blind or deaf. It’s easy for people to forget [that many had lives before their disability] and that it could happen to any of us, a minute can change your life for ever.”
The second thing that struck me was the effort that staff put into integrating residents with the outside community. Pannell says: “We try to get residents into the community as much as we can and see what they want to do, whether it’s sport, going to the cinema or a garden centre.”
So when residents expressed an interest in going swimming, team leader Nadia Ellis searched for a pool and found one at the Aspire (Association for Spinal Injury Research, Rehabilitation and Reintegration) national training centre at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in nearby Stanmore. With its hoists and wheelchair ramp, it is geared to people with disabilities and opens to the public for several hours a week, which is when Ellis and two other support staff take up to four residents fortnightly.
Ellis says: “We have one woman with a brain injury who uses a wheelchair and needs a knee replacement. She hadn’t been swimming since she was knocked down by a car two years ago on holiday and her confidence had deteriorated. She started swimming and it was amazing. From doing five widths she was racing 10 lengths and she was really proud of herself.”
A local tennis club received some lottery funding to provide facilities for disabled people and so about six residents played tennis in their wheelchairs there last summer. The plan is to repeat it this year, says Pannell.
Residents who like animals can visit a nearby RSPCA sanctuary, others have been to a local disabled riding centre. Barnet football ground on a Saturday afternoon is a regular fixture. “Again it’s mixing with the community and they love the atmosphere,” says Pannell.
The home’s two buses take residents into the community. And when Ellis recently travelled to Southend to assess someone who wanted to move to Priory Grange, she was accompanied by a bus load of residents. While she did the assessment, support staff took the residents off for the day, ending with a seaside fish and chip supper.
And Ellis supports one woman with Parkinson’s at a local yoga class. “She enjoys it because she’s socialising with people who aren’t in wheelchairs.”
It was this resident who gave Priory Grange a more ambitious challenge when she asked to spend a holiday in the US.
Pannell says: “It was quite complex to organise as it involved risk assessments for every part of the journey.”
But go ahead it did, with Ellis going as her nurse. They spent two nights in New York and then cruised back on the Queen Mary.
As well as community activities, clinical support is available from a physiotherapist, OT, speech and language therapist, dietitian, continence nurse, consultant psychiatrist, psychologist, MS nurse and diabetes nurse.
Pannell says: “We have people for whom it’s meant to be a long-term placement but with the therapy and activities put in they have been discharged because their progress has been so good.
“We have one man here with an acquired brain injury who was on a peg tube, wasn’t walking or talking and needed a long-term placement. But the peg is now out, he’s started to walk and talk and his family expect him to go back into the community.”
It sums up what this place is about.
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This article appears in the 29 May issue under the headline “At home on the grange”