A care home worker from the North East has talked of the 'traumatic' time working through the pandemic.

Keith Vardy, currently a nursing assistant, has been working at Jack Dormand Care Home in Horden, Peterlee, for thirty-five years.

During that time, Keith has looked after hundreds of residents – and also worked through the most devastating global pandemic of the 21st century.

Read more: Jack Dormand care home unveils Covid-19 memorial plaque

On June 29, organised by Keith, Jack Dormand unveiled a memorial plaque outside the care home commemorating and immortalising the fifteen people that died from COVID-19 in the home from 2020-2022.

In a tear-jerking ceremony, attendees sang a rendition of Amazing Grace and heard from local priest Father Kyle McNeil.

After the event, The Northern Echo sat down with Keith and asked him about what it was really like to go through the pandemic and its aftermath as a care worker.

The Northern Echo: Pictures from Jack Dormand Care Home, Horden.

“It was so traumatic, watching all of your loved ones die knowing there was just nothing you could do apart from give them excellent care, love and support”, he said.

“It was just something the staff would never want to go through ever again. I did get COVID, so I did miss some of the hard times here as I was working from home for some of it.

“But I was getting texts at that time telling me who was dying. People whom you would never expect to die and who would have had a good five to eight years in front of them were passing away.

“My first shift back, I walked down the care home and saw all of those empty rooms with their names still on the door.”

Keith went on to explain that the home was hit hardest during the second wave of the pandemic in January 2021, as staff worked tirelessly to keep the virus out of the home and stop the spread.

Data released by the ONS in February 2022 states that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 45,632 care home residents lost their lives from the virus.

This was out of 274,063 total deaths from all care homes in England and Wales, with coronavirus-related deaths accounting for 16.7% of them all.

Since the pandemic, Keith explained that some staff have had to had counselling to deal with what they went through during COVID-19.

“We’ve all worked together as a team. From the manager down, we’ve all stuck together as a team. Some staff have had to have counselling, but we have all stuck together because it has been so hard for everyone.

“Today’s (June 29) event has been so nice, seeing our loved ones’ families and being able to give them a hug when in the past because of COVID we could not do that.”

For Jack Dormand and for the thousands of care homes across the country, mask-wearing and limited visitation was enforced up until October 2022.

But, whilst so much of the aftermath of the pandemic oftentimes rests on how many lost their lives, Keith told the Echo that the hard work of care home staff across the country should be the real focus.

“I would just like to thank all our staff for what they have done and their hard work throughout what we’ve all been through.”

Alongside the staff, residents across all care homes were isolated from their families and unable to leave the site as COVID swept the country.

Sheena Harrison, 89, is one of the residents of Jack Dormand in Horden, and has contracted COVID-19 three times during her eight-year stay at the home.

Sheena told the Echo about her time living in a care home through COVID-19, and expressed her love for the staff who have cared for her over that time.

“Living in a care home during the pandemic wasn’t very nice. Everybody wore masks and shields, but it still got in.

“The first time I got COVID-19 I was the only one. It is important to remember who we lost in that time.

“The staff were amazing with me. They used to come in and see and make me cups of tea and bring me drinks.”

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Sheena lost eight people in her unit during the pandemic, several of whom were close friends.

Despite what she went through, Sheena’s highlight from the pandemic was being able to have a shower following a ten-day isolation period in her room.

On her journey to the bathroom, staff clapped her as she made her way down the corridor for a shower as that is “all she wanted”.

Now, more than three years after the pandemic began, staff and residents at Jack Dormand can look upon their new memorial and remember who they lost – but also what they overcame.