An administrator who unexpectedly took over the running of the care home where she works when over half its staff – including the manager – went down with Covid-19 has taken gold in major national awards.

Despite the shock of learning one morning last year that the effects of the raging pandemic had left her as the most senior person available at The Hollies home, 41-year-old Louise Jarvis quickly rallied her remaining colleagues and told them that they would get through the crisis if they worked together.

She also found time to give as much love and care as possible to the home’s residents, even organising a special Valentine’s Day event for which she persuaded a local supermarket to donate red roses for them to wear as they marked the occasion in isolation with a meal delivered to their rooms.

It is this dedication to her caring role that has landed mum-of-two Louise, who lives with her family in Pontypridd, a golden accolade in the 2022 Wales Care Awards.

The glittering presentation ceremony – sponsored by Ontex Healthcare – was held at City Hall in Cardiff and was hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

The awards are in association with Care Forum Wales, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1993 to give independent care providers a single professional voice with which to speak on one of the most important issues of our time – how to provide better quality care for those who need it most.

Louise won her gold in Commitment to Quality in Hospitality Award sponsored by Care Home Life.

Born and raised in Pontypridd, she attended Coed-y-Lan Comprehensive School in the town, leaving after the sixth form to study for a qualification in computer aided design at a specialist centre in Treforest.

In 2009 she landed a job at The Hollies, becoming first a care assistant and then being promoted to the home’s activities co-ordinator – a job she says she adored because it gave her the chance to arrange a host of special trips for residents, ranging from fruit picking outings to the local panto.

After her managerial potential – and thirst to acquire qualifications to enable her to do her job better, which still continues – she stepped up to her current role in 2016.

Louise recalled that things were going well for her until the dark day in February last year when Covid-19 struck at The Hollies.

She said: “We first learned that one of our residents had tested positive. We dealt with that but within just the next hour 23 also residents tested positive. Soon after that 29 of our 57 staff members also went down with Covid, including the home manager.

“That left me, as the most senior member of the management team, as the one in charge of the home. My first priority was to call on environmental health and Public Health Wales to get advice on how I should handle things.

“Although my stomach was churning at the thought of the responsibility I’d taken on, I told the remaining staff members that if everyone worked together everything would be ok.

“I also regularly rang the staff with Covid-19 to see how they were and arranged to pick up some vital shopping for one of the sickest ones and leave it on her doorstep.”

Louise added: “Sadly, we eventually lost three of our residents to Covid and I was able to sit with one lady who was very ill. I spoke to her, made her a drink and helped her get her medication, but sadly she passed away shortly after.

“But it wasn’t all sadness. I managed to arrange the Valentine’s Day celebration. I persuaded the local Tesco to donate a red rose for everyone and a three-course meal was delivered to their rooms in isolation.”

In nominating Louise for the award, home manager Sharon White said of her:  “Louise is responsible for the smooth running of the administrative side of the home but she still makes sure she knows every resident and builds her rapport with each and every one of them.

“She really is like my right-hand lady. Nothing is too much trouble for her.

“She has really been a rock for me and has stepped in at the home during the pandemic. It really was an awful and stressful time as we wanted to help but could not be there. Louise, without any hesitation took over the home. She immediately re-did all the rotas, organised cover and actually helped on the floor where ever she was required. She knew staff  were scared and unsettled but she kept staff morale high at this time.

“Residents and family members love Louise because she is cheeky, funny, helpful and kind.”

Of her big night at the awards Louise said: “It was a fabulous night and I was truly over the moon at winning the gold. In fact, I still can’t believe it really.

“Just to be there in a room filled with so was people was unbelievably overwhelming.

“It was also heart-warming to hear the stories of so many of the other winners on the night. It was truly unforgettable and I will always remember it.”

Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the ceremony was all the more poignant because of the Covid pandemic and what front line staff had endured.

He said: “I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to all the wonderful people who work in social care after the rose magnificently and courageously to meet the unprecedented challenges they have faced over the past couple of years.

“We have always recognised their true value and hopefully now the rest of Wales is also aware of how lucky we are as a nation to have them providing care and safeguarding our most vulnerable people.

“Our finalists are the best of the best and are here representing the whole social care workforce who all deserve a big pat on the back.

“There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights and in the months and years to come.

“In the words of the powerful song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, let the Diolch last forever.

“We take our hats off to them.”