The Fircroft Trust supports local people in Kingston and surrounding areas that have mental health challenges, including some people who are dual diagnosed with a learning disability and people with drug and alcohol issues. There’s no upper age limit, with the oldest person attending being 90 years old!
We talked with Teresa Smith, Manager at The Fircroft Community Wellbeing Hub, about taking the bold leap from paper to an online case management system. At the same time as moving premises during Covid 19.
Challenge: Paper based client management system
With a small team of part-time staff working with paper-based client files, The Fircroft Trust knew that they needed a database.
“It was very difficult sometimes to get the time to sit and write everything out. And to keep everybody up to date with what's going on.
We also have to put in funding applications. And of course, what we found was if we needed to know how many people we had that came from Surbiton that received benefits and were under 50, we then had to go through every file that we had”.
As they have started to support more people, Teresa recognised this was becoming a mammoth task. And that having access to details about someone quickly to hand makes a big difference.
“It could be that somebody stopped taking their medication. It could be that something has happened within their life, to somebody in the family or to them, the coming and going of care managers and being discharged from certain things, or put over to GP care.
“Before we used to have to have a communication book, when every member of staff came on site, they used to flick back all through the pages. It had all the phone calls that had been received.
But it was just too much information for them to read, really, from the last time they were in. We then used to have to rewrite it all, because then it had to go in the [client] files.
If we can register all that on there, when a member of staff comes in, they can look down and they've got all that to hand so they will know that if they're going into a session with somebody, whether they're either off medication or it's been changed.
They're not going to ask 'Oh, how's your mum?', to then have the information that mum passed away, or that sort of information which, with the greatest will in the world, sometimes we can't get all of that handed over to staff when they come in before they then go into a session.
And we don't want those sorts of situations to arise”.
The Fircroft Trust staff had tried Excel and had a look at other systems but had found it tough to make them work in the way they needed.
How Datawise London helped
The Fircroft Trust got in touch with Superhighways at Datawise London. Data and Evaluation Adviser, Alice Linell, suggested Airtable could meet their needs.
She helped Teresa set up the basics, including headings such as name, address and date of birth and a drop down list of doctors.
“I don't think we would have ever found it ourselves.
"Alice was incredibly patient with myself and a couple of the other staff who were not computer whizzes. She was very, very patient at showing us how we could do it and sending us little bullet points as to how you do it, so we had it there to go back over.
She was amazing”.
How does a database help?
“It means when anything happens, they've only got seconds to literally be able to enter it in on the section that we have for notes.
It's on there immediately, which means when a member of staff comes in, they can go on to Airtable, just literally flick through the notes of everybody that they will have contact with that day and can be kept up to date with exactly what's going on.
When we do a funding application we can get it to pick up who's under 50 lives in Surbiton all those things so Airtable has been amazing for us. It's been a lifeline”.
“On the rare occasion we do have to call 999 we've got up to date medication changes, we've got the GPs, we've got everything there so that we can give them up to date information.
As opposed to having to try and find the file in the filing cabinet and then sift through and find the bit of paper that's got that on, and hope and pray that was the last medication list that you had in there and that somebody hasn't filed it in a different part.
It’s streamlined everything and made life so much easier for us”.
And on a daily basis, the database is saving staff time, both from not having to write out new files based on medication changes and edit other important details but also from having the flexibility of providing support from multiple locations.
“It means from wherever people are, whether they're on a laptop, out meeting people, wherever they are, they can access it.
Before they didn't have that information to hand, so that meant they had to come into the office before they could go and meet people to make sure they were up to date, where now they don't have to do that”.
Key take away from the process
“When initially it was said we were going to have a database I was filled with horror.
I'm not the most technical of people: I can do the basics, but then I shout for help when it all goes wrong. And I was thinking ‘I'm never going to be able to put these entries in and I'm never going to be able to do this. I'm going to muck it all up’.
But I don't actually even think about it now. I just go on there”.
Next steps: the big move and Airtable for residential support staff
The Fircroft Trust also offer Residential and Supported Living services for adults with learning disabilities at Firs Court in Chessington.
They are now exploring how the system can be replicated in part to help staff on shifts further support their residents.
They are also in the process of moving to a temporary building, as serious structural problems are dealt with at their existing site.
“When we move we don't really want to have to take everything, all the big heavy files. Some people we've been supporting for a long time, for 15, 20 years.
That's a lot of paper to be carting around that we don't actually need.
All the relevant information is on the computer.
We can definitely build on it…I think this has tried as much as possible to bring us up to the 21st century. We were a little bit pen and paper and pocket calculators prior.
It really will help us in the future. Especially now we're getting more referrals.
What advice would Teresa give to another small charity or community organisation?
“Do not stress about it, do not worry, jump for it. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
Airtable is so easy to work with. It's made life so much easier for us.
It really has transformed how we work, it's been amazing”.