THE manager of an East Renfrewshire care home where 11 residents died from suspected Covid-19 has spoken about the "terrifying" ordeal of staff.

Westacres was one of the first to be struck by the coronavirus but has now been given the all clear by health officials.

Yet despite daily tears, the staff have looked after residents, kept relatives informed and begged for as much personal protective equipment (PPE) as they could get.

Linda Carruthers has worked with parent charity Newark Care for 19 years and the most recent two and a half years as care manager of Westacres.

The home locked down around 8pm on March 11 after discussions with their board and sister facility Burnside. It was nearly two weeks before the national lockdown and there was no warning to families.

Linda said every family was upset, but they understood.

"This is a virus that's invisible," she told the Barrhead News. "They knew all we wanted to do was to protect their families.

"As much as the flu is a very similar virus, the difference was how this one attacks people's lungs. That was our fear.

"We had kept a lot of these residents going way past what was their expected lifespan and the aim was still to continue to do that - that's what we were trying to protect.

"The coronavirus was most probably here in Westacres by that point and we just didn't know."

Linda's voice turned sombre when she talked about the realisation on March 25, just two days into the UK lockdown, that the virus was in Westacres, in Newton Mearns.

"With hindsight, we were lucky and incredibly unlucky," said Linda. "Because it hit us so quickly, the staff didn't get a chance to feel the terror they probably should have.

"We were the first home in the area to be hit so we didn't really know what to expect. Effectively we just worked through it. At that point, it was just heads down and let's go.

"Were we scared? We were absolutely terrified.

"The girls upped their game, they worked extra shifts, extra hours - we were never short staffed.

"But did we cry every day? Yeah, we did. There wasn't a day when somebody wasn't crying, which would set the rest of us off. It was horrific.

"We just didn't get a chance to grieve. We didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to relatives, which is enormous. Now that we're past it, it almost seems like a nightmare."

She added: "We talk about it every day. We're classed as infection-free. But the terror is it's going to come back. Because we have no way of knowing."

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Westacres has 68 total staff and at one point there were 16 off work in self-isolation out of concern they might have the virus. But they were never tested.

In fact, Linda pointed out, there were no tests for staff until April 24, nearly seven weeks into the home's lockdown.

None of the 11 who lost their lives ever got tested either, something Linda said is incredibly difficult for families. They remain suspected cases.

And Westacres struggled to get PPE too. They had gloves and aprons, but no masks, which can be very upsetting to residents with alzheimers or dementia.

It was local surgeries that ensured the home had the masks to cover gaps until the supply taps finally expanded from the NHS to social care.

"We couldn't have done anymore than we did," said Linda.

"If we had had the PPE? If I didn't have to spend seven hours one day on the phone begging for it?

"I remember saying, I was so frustrated, 'You're making me kill people because we can't protect them'.

"And she started crying and I started crying. I was so terrified we wouldn't get [PPE supplies]. We did get it, but it took me seven hours, and a massive complaint from the Care Inspectorate."

Linda said it is her "incredible" staff who have kept going through everything - and gets tearful just thinking about their strength.

"We love residents too," she said. "You can't come into care and be professional all the time - we get relationships with these people and we spend more time with them than we spend with our own families. They become part of your life.

"We loved every single one of them."

But she added: "What I tried to do was make sure that we didn't feel guilty. But we did. The virus could have come in on anything.

"They all felt incredibly guilty, as did I. To not keep it out of the building feels like a failure. But no-one made me feel that way, and no-one made them feel that way. That was just because we care so much about them."

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As well as the fear of the virus coming back, Linda said they worry most that life won't return to normal. Westacres has groups for crosswords, baking, gardening and more that aren't possible now. Residents can't eat together.

For all the care Westacres has given its residents and their families, it was those relatives who most captured the mood of a grateful nation.

Read more: Youngsters create colourful drawings for care home

The families and staff are looking forward to a celebration afternoon when the pandemic threat is gone, where everyone can remember the lives lived, some as old as 104.

"We have a memory board up with photos of all our residents that we lost," said Linda. "And we smile when we look at it and we remember them and the funny things they used to do. Some of these people were with us for years. We won't ever forget them.

"What was really difficult to deal with, but lovely at the same time, is every time someone would die, I would make the phone call the next morning to see how the family were.

"And every single one of them said, 'We're more worried about you up there than we are about us'.

"So, 'How are the staff? How are you? How are you coping?'

"Nevermind that they've just lost their mum, their dad, their uncle, their aunt. It was 'how are you'. And that was just amazing."

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