Susanne, Heather and Gerry’s Story

Susanne, Heather and Gerrys Story

Heather (PA employer): “I was driving to one of my last shifts as a midwife before going on maternity leave when a young ‘racer’ lost control of his car and hit me head on. I suffered severe injuries and life changed immeasurably from that moment. At that time our daughter Natasha was 14 months old and I subsequently gave birth to Zoe who has cerebral Palsy.”

Gerry (Husband, dad & PA employer):As I am sure you can imagine, life was very difficult following the accident and Zoe’s birth. I called the council to ask what assistance might be available but we were informed that if we earned in excess of £16,000 per annum, we were not entitled to any assistance. As both Heather and I worked, this took us over the figure and so we just had to ‘get on with it.’ Initially we had only family members to help us, but the closest lives in Blairgowrie and we live in Inverness. The distance coupled with having to make room in our house to accommodate them, just wasn’t practical, grateful though we were for the offer of family assistance. When Heather had to go for spinal surgery 18 months after the car accident, Zoe’s paediatrician asked us who was looking after the children while we were in Aberdeen. We explained that my mum had travelled up from Fife to help us. It was only then that the local authority was contacted by health staff, concerned about the pressure we were under, and a support package was put in place for us. Sadly the support provided was not appropriate. The support workers provided were agency staff from a care company. It was a case of sending ‘who was available’ rather than providing appropriately skilled and trained workers. This unfortunately caused a great deal of stress between the care workers and ourselves and we felt we had no option but to advertise for our own staff. We were put in touch with Highland Advocacy who took us step by step through the process of applying for a direct payment. At that point we began to realise that for the first time we had a say in who would be coming in to support us, which although daunting, was quite liberating. We were finally in a position where we could identify the needs we had, and ensure they were being met, by employing PAs who had the skills required to work closely with my family.”

Susanne (PA): “Before I became a PA I was a development worker for a charity supporting families affected by a brain injury. Part of my role as a development worker was to facilitate peer support. I first met Heather whilst working for the charity and encouraged her to attend one of the peer support groups. She told me that she was looking for someone to support her with planning and organising her day. I started working a few hours a week but now I work full time helping Heather to plan and organise her family’s life!”

Susanne, Heather and Gerrys Story 2

Gerry:Initially, I did most of the organisation myself, except PA interviews which Heather took charge of as she works so closely with the PAs. However due to the amount of work involved we felt it would be easier if we created a ‘senior PA’ as a manager and Susanne has now successfully filled that role for the past 2 years. We honestly couldn’t have chosen anyone better. She deals with all aspects of our service except for the financial side which is still my responsibility. Susanne: I assist with domestic tasks, attend appointments and social activities with Heather and I coordinate and manage a team of 12 PAs who are employed to support Zoe. I deal with rotas, organising cover for sickness and holidays, training, instruction and supervision. Heather and I also work together on strategies and goals to help her own recovery. Heather: Due to my brain injury which I sustained in the accident, have difficulty retaining information and so this is a task Susanne assists with. For example she set up a white board in the kitchen which we use as a diary. All appointments, events etc, are written up and I can refer to it at any time as a reminder. We also set up alarms on my smartphone to remind me to take medications. Simple, often inexpensive strategies like this can be very effective.”

Gerry:To some people having twelve PAs may seem excessive, but we have to balance having the support at the critical times we need seven days a week, with offering reasonable hours and fair working conditions for the PAs who are so valuable to us. Of course it is always difficult when you have someone in your house constantly. However when that person is there to assist and help us to have as close to an ordinary family life as we can, then it’s a sacrifice we are happy to make. Our children can enjoy days at the beach, going swimming, even going away on holiday as a family, something we just can’t manage without their support. For anyone thinking about applying to be a PA I would say “why are you waiting?” For us it’s so empowering to be able to choose who we want to assist us rather than wondering who is going to be turning up at your door from an agency. You also receive more loyalty and understanding from someone you have employed yourself. Heather and I would never consider going back to using agency staff having experienced the freedom and reassurance of having PAs working with our family, who we have chosen and employed ourselves.”

Susanne: “I enjoy the flexibility and opportunity to help someone improve aspects of their life. I also enjoy the variety of the work. No day is ever the same. It can be difficult for either party to not overstep boundaries as you become a big part of the family’s life so you have to always be aware of that. I’d say give it a go. It’s very rewarding. You can make such a difference topeople’s lives.”