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Dublin: 19 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

Meals on Wheels service at risk due to increased demand and loss of staff in wake of coronavirus spread

St Munchin’s Community Enterprise Centre in Killeely is a meeting point for hundreds of local elderly people.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Shutterstock/Kristo-Gothard Hunor

A MEALS ON Wheels service for the elderly and vulnerable is at risk due to increased demand and staff lost to observing Covid-19 social distancing and self isolation protocols.

Linda Ledger, manager of St Munchin’s Community Enterprise Centre, Killeely, Limerick, said she had to reduce staff numbers from 26 to ten, this morning, as she was forced to temporarily close a number of in-house social enterprises, including a hair salon, beauticians, and a florist.

These small units provide almost all of the centre’s income which relies heavily on donations of food and funds.

“The meals and wheels was always a loss making service, but we have always kept it going because we have had income from the other services in the centre,” explained Ledger.

Now we don’t have that income, we are struggling. The meals on wheels service is now at risk.

Ledger also closed the centre’s cafe as it had proved “too difficult” to control social distancing protocols. 

The facility is a meeting point for hundreds of local elderly people “who are now cocooned in their homes, missing their grandchildren, and in need of support more than ever”. 

The centre normally provides 200 meals daily, but Ledger said she expects the centre will have to ramp up its daily offering “to 1,000 meals”.

“We have been inundated with a lot of new people, a lot of nurses, and a people that have come out of hospital. We are trying to feed them.”

Staff are trying to provide food and social supports to elderly clients, while at the same time having to adhere to social distancing protocols, which grinds against the spirit of the service, Ledger said.

“The HSE has asked us that when we are doing meals on wheels that we don’t interact with the elderly at all. So, we now have to knock on their door, leave the dinner, and then we are gone. There should be no contact at all, and that’s to keep them safe.”

Ledger has extended “friendly phonecall service” which aims to prevent those “locked in” at home, becoming “miserable and depressed and isolated”.

Some get a friendly call every morning to tel them what’s on for their dinner. They might have Alzheimer’s, or they’re just lonesome, so they get a phone call everyday.

She has banned young people from the centre, “unless its an emergency” to combat the virus spreading. 

The local elderly population are “really struggling; they need toilet rolls, soap, milk, bread”.

Ledger and her “skeletal crew” have employed a novel way of supplying a fresh supply of milk, by freezing it in ice pockets.

“So now, if they can’t get out now they just pop out their iced milk cube and have it for your cup of tea or whatever.”

Marie Fitzgerald, from Keane Street, who uses the meals on wheels service said she and others would “be lost” if it is stopped in its tracks. 

Fitzgerald, (85), who also has family supports, said: “I’m not joking you, you wouldn’t get a meal like it in a hotel, for four euros fifty cent. I get it everyday, except Sunday. The staff are brilliant, they are so courteous.” 

Staff delivering meals also provide human interaction with clients “who mightened see anyone from one end of the week to another”. 

Shutting down the service temporarily “would be desperate for very old person that relies on it, people go to the centre, as well, to have their dinner, and to sit down and chat with others”.

She has eleven grandchildren she cannot see due to social distancing measures as advised by the HSE. 

“I have three daughters and two sons and they are very good to me, and do all my shopping. I used to always go on St Patrick’s Day to one of their houses, and I (couldn’t do that) yesterday,” added Fitzgerald.

“I keep my self occupied with knitting, sewing, and reading, doing puzzles and word searches – it keeps the mind occupied,” she said. 

Back at the centre, Ledger is beginning her day at 4.50am in order to make sure she and her staff are ready to meet whatever lies ahead.

“We are getting ready for a worst case scenario of clients being locked-in for months, or, if this does escalate and there is a complete lock-down,” Ledger declared. 

The government are asking anybody over 70 to have no interaction, even with their grandkids, and it’s very hard.

“Most don’t have smart phones so they cant FaceTime anyway. They are feeling loneliness and isolation.

“We can’t ask the elderly to cocoon for months on end, and then abandon them. The government need to come in behind services like ours.”

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David Raleigh

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