10,000 Red Cross volunteers stand by to help care homes


The volunteers will help with clinical and general tasks at short notice at nursing homes as the coronavirus crisis threatens staff levels

Easing the pressure

Almost 10,000 volunteers from Red Cross Flanders are ready to be deployed in the region’s rest homes. By taking on logistical and basic nursing tasks, they will be able to reduce the pressure on rest home staff during the coronavirus crisis.

Belgium’s capacity to test for Covid-19 infections has increased, raising the question of what happens when nursing home staff test positive and must stay away from work. “When there is an acute shortage of personnel in a care home, or the pressure on carers becomes too high for other reasons, they can call on the Red Cross volunteers,” said spokesperson Ine Tassignon. “They are ready to go to work immediately.”

Red Cross Flanders has some 5,000 volunteers with training in caregiving. “They are experts in helping during crises,” said Tassignon. “At the beginning of the outbreak, we launched an appeal for citizens to come forward as crisis volunteers. More than 4,000 registered, and they are also nearly ready to serve.”

Volunteers with appropriate experience will help with tasks such as dressing wounds, allowing staff to concentrate on treating patients with more urgent needs. Other volunteers will carry out non-medical tasks such as making beds and serving meals.

Quick response

“When a care home needs extra staff, we can quickly respond to that appeal,” said Tassignon. “We might get a call at 9.00 and by midday there can be someone from the Red Cross distributing meals, for example. Our strength is that we can count on so many enthusiastic volunteers.”

They are experts in helping during crises, and helping others is in their DNA

- Ine Tassignon

The organisation is also working closely with researchers from KU Leuven, making available its central donor lab – normally used to test samples from blood donors – for testing nose and throat swabs for coronavirus.

They have made a large number of blood samples available to Sciensano, the Belgian institute for health, to test for antibodies and map the number of infections in Flanders. The results could lead to reliable models for the evolution of the epidemic and protect against a potential second wave of infections.

Meanwhile, the governor of Antwerp province, Cathy Berx, has called on health professionals such as physios, podiatrists and speech therapists to help care homes while their regular practises are closed.

“From discussions with rest homes, it’s clear that as well as protective material and oxygen, they also need helping hands,” she told Radio 2 Antwerpen. “There is a very real chance that more residents are going to be infected and that more staff will become sick. We have to bridge this difficult period.”

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