Operators taking over Southern Cross homes face a long battle to earn the trust of residents and relatives, ex-Priory Group boss Dr Chai Patel has admitted as he prepares to take over one-third of the homes.
Patel told Community Care the firm he will head up to run the homes faced a “long journey” as “reputations are breached in a second and take years to build up”.
“We will have to create a new brand that has values that people trust and people believe in and we will have to earn that trust.”
Court Cavendish, a financial turnaround firm for care services headed by Patel, has been brought in by Southern Cross’s biggest landlord, property company NHP, to run a new company to operate NHP’s 249 homes – a third of Southern Cross’s portfolio.
Patel’s key targets include increasing occupancy rates at the homes from about 85%, which is below the market average, and reducing staff turnover, which is “higher than we would like it to be”. Staff at the homes will be transferred to the new company, along with some Southern Cross back office staff, while the new company may also create jobs, particularly in training and development.
Patel also has longer-term plans to diversify into the home care market and provide more services for the NHS to help prevent hospital admissions and achieve earlier discharges.
He acknowledged that many of the homes needed investment – commentators have warned that some have been left in “rack and ruin”. The company is backed by £14m of initial investment from NHP, which is due to be doubled in October.
Patel also admitted that standards of care needed to improve.
“Hopefully we can get to the bottom of some of the problems that the company has had in the past. It can never be acceptable to have poor care,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen but you have to pick that up early and make sure that staff have the appropriate training and supervision and make sure that residents know we are moving quickly [to deal with it].”
With NHP owning the homes and having a stake in the operating company, Patel said that conflicts over rent levels that dogged Southern Cross’s relationships with its landlords should not arise.
The company’s collapse has precipitated calls for tighter financial regulation of social care services, something the government is looking at.
Patel said it was right to look at the issue, but warned: “We should do that calmly as any change made hastily is bound to create problems down the line.”
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