Ask the average person what a ‘dream day’ in their role is, and you might hear a lot of different responses. It’s unlikely, however, that any will be as heartfelt and humbling as that of Tracy Down’s.
“My dream day? That every patient, carer, or paramedic that we work with felt they got the treatment they deserve. That they were looked after the way they wanted to be looked after, and with compassion. That it was obvious we wanted to help them and aren’t just a voice on the other end of the phone.”
Tracy works at our hospice supporting patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families: both at home, and from our inpatient and outpatient wards at Northfleet. As well as providing palliative care –plus a range of holistic complementary therapies and living well services – we are also the only hospice in the area that looks after patients of all ages.
Unsurprisingly, that comes with a lot of admin.
Here’s where Tracy, Leader of our Clinical Admin Team (CAT), comes in. Tracy arrived at ellenor in the summer of 2020–amidst the ravages of COVID-19 –with the task of breaking down the team’s administrative silos, aligning its processes, and unifying its various departments.
On a day-to-day basis, Tracy is responsible for overseeing referrals to the hospice –which can total up to 30 in a single week –coordinating administrative support to the clinical staff, and line managing a team of five. The CAT also provides phone-based support and information to our patients and their families –a key part of the role, but far from the easiest.
“We get a range of callers on the phone; people that are worried, upset. As the first contact they have with ellenor we are skilled at picking up on that and being able to be calm and supportive. You treat them how you want to be treated. If it was you in that situation, how would you want someone to look after you, to speak to you? That’s the only way I think it can be done.”
The CAT’s duties begin at the point of the patient’s referral. As well as contacting GPs for up-to-date medical records and histories, our team also contact referred individuals to explain more about ellenor’s services and discuss if it’s right for them.
And that administrative support Tracy’s team provides –particularly when families are concerned –doesn’t stop when a patient leaves the hospice or passes away. The CAT is involved in referring families to counselling or finance support services, which are provided either by us or our partners. Tracy and her team are also responsible for sending out letters to events, such as ‘Carer’s Cuppas’, where bereaved families can engage in conversations to help them come to terms with the loss of loved ones.
Sadly, it’s something Tracy can empathise with all too well.
Tracy’s family accessed similar services when her own father –who was looked after by ellenor when diagnosed with a life-limiting illness – passed away. The care he received, we also helped organise her father’s wedding to his life-long partner shortly before his death, is one of the reasons Tracy joined the organisation; to ensure that future families receive the same level of support that she did.
“The care and help that wasn’t given only to him, but to our whole family, was just amazing. I didn’t know how deeply ellenor actually looked after patients and their families.”
Starting a new job during a global pandemic is never an easy proposition– particularly when, unlike most of the world, you don’t have the luxury of working from home.
“We’ve been in the office everyday, even throughout COVID-19. Our job is based here, so – no matter how bad COVID-19 got – we were still here every day. We had to be. Who else would answer the phones?”.
Tracy is also quick to stress how well the rest of the CAT – whom she affectionately refers to as her “girls” – have adapted to the changes of the last year.
“I’ve had to learn everything, but all the girls have had to learn how each service works. Hats off to them – they’ve done brilliantly. No one’s left on their own.”
In a world that, at times, feels more divided than ever, it’s a breath of fresh air that Tracy has brought her team together not only in a physical sense, but with a culture of camaraderie and cooperation.
“A lot of people said to me ‘working in a hospice must be a bit miserable.’ Actually, it’s not! It’s one of the loveliest places. Everyone’s friendly, everyone’s happy –we have such a laugh. We support each other too when someone takes a hard call or is upset. My door is always open.”
And, in a world where the future has been effectively put on hold, Tracy still has a firm focus on the future.
“I want to get back to pre-COVID times, providing personal service, so patients and families don’t just think they’re a number on a screen –they see that they’re a person to us. I want ellenor to grow, and I want to grow with it. I want to be here throughout.”
We are ellenor, a charity funded by the generosity of our local community, offering the best care and support to families facing terminal illness in Kent. We are the only charity in the county that provides hospice care for people of all ages – babies, children and adults - and their families. This includes pain and symptom relief, end of life care, respite, bereavement support and emotional and spiritual care.
Our Children’s Hospice Care, formerly known as chYps, is provided in the comfort of the family home and spans across North and West Kent and the London Borough of Bexley. Adults living in Gravesham, Dartford and Swanley, receive care in their place of choice, including their own homes, at our Hospice in Gravesend and in local care homes.