A day in the life of… the ‘amazing’ Juanita Omega: Norwood Support Worker

9 November 2018

By Carissa Tucker, Norwood Communications Manager

Visiting our ‘Outstanding’ residential care home in Stanmore, I can’t help but feel a bit jittery. I’ve read about the staff and residents and imagined what it must be like to live and work there but as I stand on the threshold I’m overcome with nervous excitement.

My nerves completely dissipate as soon as I step inside. I receive such a warm welcome, from staff and residents alike, and immediately feel like I’ve been welcomed into a home just like any other.

Then I meet Juanita. Juanita has been working here since 2003 and is the key support worker to Nicole – a resident since 1997.

Juanita is 65 years old, but doesn’t look a day older than 45. She credits her youth to ‘working’ somewhere where the rewards are great, and daily. We talk about her decade long relationship with Nicole and she says it has come a long way since her first day 15 years ago.

When Juanita started at the home, Nicole was non-verbal and kept to herself. Juanita explains that if Nicole wasn’t happy or couldn’t communicate, she would just hit her head against the wall.

Since then, Nicole’s behaviour has improved considerably. Nicole no longer bangs her head against the wall and she now communicates confidently with Juanita and the other carers and residents.

When I ask Juanita how she made such progress, Juanita credits Norwood for all the training they provide. She explains how Norwood’s Communications and Engagement team have trained her in Great Interactions, Safeguarding and Makaton (a language programme using signs and symbols to help people communicate). She also explains that she has obtained a NVQ Level 3 qualification since joining Norwood – in fact all of the support workers in the home have the same qualification.

Juanita is quick to point out, however, that it’s not just the training or the qualifications that make the difference: it’s routine and consistency and taking the time to know Nicole’s likes and dislikes.

Juanita tells me that Nicole loves shopping, and she really enjoys choosing her own clothes and accessories. On the day I visit she is dressed like something out of a magazine, wearing a gorgeous grey knit jumper and skirt with knee-high fur-lined boots. She has on a silver necklace and bracelets on both wrists. Juanita says Nicole chooses all her own outfits, matching the accessories herself – and she’s a natural!

Since she was nine years old Nicole has also loved Abba music. Juanita says that they took Nicole to see Mamma Mia at the cinema when it came out, which Nicole adored. But she didn’t always, Juanita says; it took time for her to love it. They were patient and let her decide the films she wanted to see and now her favourite genre is musicals.

Lunch is then a family affair in the light and airy dining room, where all the residents and staff come together to share their meals. Juanita disappears into the kitchen, returning moments later with a peanut butter sandwich and Nicole’s eye’s light up. “I know Nicole loves peanut butter sandwiches, they’re her favourite,’” says Juanita. As I sit there talking to Juanita and Nicole over lunch, Juanita helps to feed Nicole. She says Nicole likes her to feed her; but only her. It’s a lovely bond they have. It’s almost like sitting with a mother and daughter watching them communicate without words, with Juanita ‘just knowing’ what Nicole wants and needs.

Next I ask Juanita what a typical work week is like. She says she works 36 hours in a week, across a seven day rota (doing both day work and sleep in’s – sometimes three to four days in a row). Juanita explains that she lives around the corner now so she’s always only a stone’s throw away from Nicole and what she fondly refers to as her ‘second family’. Just the other day Juanita and Nicole went bowling (with the rest of the residents and staff), returning home to celebrate Halloween.

Juanita also goes on holidays with Nicole and the whole ‘family’ from the home. They’ve been to Paris, Portugal and all over the UK she explains. While we’re talking about their holidays, Juanita asks Nicole where she wants to go next. Alex, another resident who has popped into Nicole’s room to say ‘hi’ pipes up and says she wants to go to New Forest. I can see that holiday planning is very much something that everyone in the house contributes towards.

I ask Juanita: what’s the best thing about your job? She eloquently answers: “This job is so rewarding. I get so much good feedback from Nicole, her family, the staff here and my Manager. We are all so supportive of each other, just like one big happy family you could say.”

Juanita then blushes as she tells me the feedback she receives from Nicole’s family: “You’re an amazing support worker and you really do look after Nicole so very well.”

When I leave I thank Juanita, Nicole and everyone else in the house for having me. For me, it’s back to the office to type up my notes, for Juanita it’s so much more:

“I think about Nicole even when I’m not here, she’s the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning and the last thing I think of at night – it’s her and the family of residents and other staff here that make what I do so rewarding.”

“I love my job! It’s been life changing!” says Juanita.