Way back in March, when the pandemic first hit our shores, as a company we feared the yet unknown coronavirus and followed closely what was happening around the world. This brought anxiety to our residents and their families, as well as to our employees, who all worked closely together.

Looking back at our 10-week lockdown with the residents, which we thought was the most challenging aspect of this unprecedented journey, I now realise that it was the most beautiful time, because there was so much going on inside all our homes. This experience will go down in Malta’s history for our standards of humanity and care.

Our care was automatically converted into a 24-hour service by our managers and employees, who became our residents’ second family. Through our active ageing programme, Skype calls with relatives, celebrations and other social activities, we gave our elderly what they truly deserved. As a result, a magnificent connection was created.

Over the past year, CareMalta has reached a peak in care, an achievement like no other throughout its 27-year history in the sector. Seeing our people step up to the many challenges we faced – like soldiers going to war – was very meaningful to us.

I’m proud of the critical decisions we took throughout this pandemic. These were spot on in all circumstances. I’m also very grateful for the support of our shareholders and mother company, the Vassallo Group, as well as the integrity of our teams and their sense of calling and vocation during such hard times.

On the other hand, we have had to face the sad reality of losing a number of residents during this second wave of the pandemic. Even though we did everything we could in order not to lose one life, all our energies, sacrifices and goodwill were overcome by the lack of restrictive measures the country experienced during the summer months and days that followed.

But we sailed through the storm very well and managed to contain the spread immediately, thanks to the professionalism, experience and expertise of the right people being in the right places at the right time. Once again, our teams dropped everything, irrespective of their vulnerability and family needs, and did not think twice about stepping in to help care for our residents. This is the true meaning of vocation.

To us, care means everything. As leading operators in the sector, I see a very fine line between care and finances. If you don’t find the right balance, you risk ruining everything. Unfortunately, this is what happened on a national scale, with the most vulnerable suffering the brunt of a number of bad decisions, which could have been rectified at an earlier stage. I’m sure that, had the deaths occurred within the younger generation, the country would have been in a state of alarm!

While expressing my gratitude to the Social Care Standards Authority for all its support over the past year, I believe that, as a country, there’s a need for more social responsibility. Swab test results, particularly the ones for employees who are in quarantine or self-isolation, should be given priority.

I also feel very strongly about penalties, especially at a time when the care sector needs more people working within it. I understand that, as care home operators, it is fair to face consequences when regulation is not abided by. However, discretion needs to be applied at the moment as the sector is fighting to survive.

It is also sad to see society expressing negativity towards the sector, particularly since all the frontliners working in care are under so much pressure. Let us respect one another, show gratitude and appreciation and use this time to bring out the humanity and virtues in each and every one of us.

On a positive note, I hope lessons will be learnt from this pandemic. The sector needs to review its social structures, while looking at new possibilities to help support families wishing to take care of their elderly. I fear that, as a society, we are just focusing on long-term care settings – which, ultimately, is not the vision for the sector.

While our values and virtues have been tried and tested by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, I am eager to see the true meaning of care shine in the coming years. If this fails on a nationwide scale, I’m sure that, within the CareMalta Group, we will all continue to embrace each other, more than ever before.

Like the families, we too, as operators, are suffering, since we cannot hug our residents or give them what they really need – the model of care we have always had, along with a sense of spirituality and togetherness which we all long for!