A care home called the police when a woman who had been denied visits to her 83-year-old husband for eight months amid the Covid pandemic sneaked in to get him out.
Patricia Hodges, 75, used to visit her husband, Graham, daily at Wayside House in Bromsgrove, where he was being cared for with Lewy Body dementia. But her anguish at being prevented from seeing him from March to October, and a row over fees, sparked an attempt to move him to another home, she said.
The incident on 28 October followed a dispute between the Hodges and the care home, which began with requests for visits being denied. It ended with the home’s owner being accused of “holding” Graham Hodges over missing fees, which the home strongly denies.
Wayside House granted Patricia a visit the day before she tried to enter the home – the first in 221 days. By then the family had booked a new home and they were fearful of further isolation in the second wave of the pandemic.
The dispute highlights a dilemma facing care homes being asked to balance infection control with the mental health of residents and their families.
Last week a woman was arrested when she tried to release her mother from a care home in Humberside which had also stopped normal visiting. MPs are set to debate the issue in parliament on Wednesday.
“I rang the doorbell and I wasn’t going to be let in,” said Patricia, describing how a handyman had left a side door open and she entered to get her husband out. She was confronted by the care home owner, Rakesh Kotecha, who warned she was a Covid risk and subsequently called the police. Officers eventually asked her to leave the building where she was staging an impromptu sit-in.
In the car park, the Hodges argued to police that the home was exceeding its rights. Officers spoke by phone to social services and other professionals, who said there was no reason not to let Graham leave. He was finally allowed to move the next day.
“When Graham came out to get into the wheelchair taxi, he let out a loud cheer and then started weeping when he saw Bethan [his daughter] and the grandchildren and told them he loved them all and would be able to give them a kiss now,” said Patricia.
Kotecha said staff and residents could not be put at risk for one family to be able to visit, and that strict visiting restrictions and policies were needed to keep the home Covid-free.
“Of course we would love to have families visiting,” he said. “In the pre-Covid world we had no restriction on visiting hours at all.” He added that the home has now started allowing visits in a specially prepared room.
In June, Gethin Hodges, the resident’s son, had asked for a five-minute visit for his mother. He wrote: “My father is very frail and I don’t believe he will have many months ahead of him and it may well be the last chance my mum gets to see him.”
The home replied that only end-of-life visits would be possible and offered to facilitate video calls. It said: “Our concern is that if there is a second pandemic that by reopening our doors too soon, [we] might allow the virus into the home.”
The dispute developed when the Hodges declined to pay a 20% fee increase which the home said was to reflect increased costs from Covid such as for PPE.
In August, increasingly concerned about Graham’s wellbeing without visitors, the family gave the home a month’s notice. Kotecha said he wouldn’t allow an assessment of the resident’s health to be made by the new home because of £12,000 in owed fees. But he denied the family’s claim he was trying to “hold” Graham until he received payment.
He told the family: “It is the norm in the sector that another provider would not take a resident who has outstanding fees, as the new provider would not want to end up in the same position.”
Kotecha said the money “was not an issue as the care and safety for our residents is first and foremost … A move from his home was not going to be in his best interest as his health may well deteriorate”.
A fortnight later, Kotecha informed the family their August notice had “expired” and the home needed a new notice period to consider moving Graham. The family said it provided this on 1 October but Kotecha said he never received it. In late October, when the family said they were coming to collect him, the home said it still needed a period of notice.
“We had written to the family on several occasions asking them to provide a rolling notice which would have taken care of this issue,” Kotecha said. “They failed to do so. They were sent a reminder on 6 October that if they still wished to move [their] dad then they needed to provide a notice, which there was no response to.”
The family said it consulted Worcestershire county council social services and a solicitor who advised that the home had no rights to hold him, if it was doing so. Graham has now moved into a new home and is in a period of isolation before visits can begin.