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'Tears of joy and happiness' as visitors return to nursing homes

It has been three months since residents have been able to see their loved ones in person.

“WE ALL WOKE up in a really anticipatory mood. All day there have been tears of joy and happiness from obviously the residents and visitors but also the staff as well, witnessing these reunions that are so important to everyone.”

Siobhan Grant, manager at St Joseph’s in Shankill Dublin has been welcoming the nursing home’s first visitors in three months.

“The last three months have been a real learning curve for everyone, it’s been difficult and it’s been stressful, but today makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

First in the door was Seamus, who was there to see his wife of over 50 years, Ella.

“It was a bit emotional of course after three months of not seeing my wife Ella. It went extremely well, I was very happy to see her and she was happy to see me and we had a lovely time together,” he said.

Three months is the longest separation I’ve ever had from Ella, it’s been difficult. But it’s helped that I’ve been able to have a video phonecall with Ella every day, that’s been a great help in bridging the gap.

Many of the residents’ family members would have visited daily before the lockdown. Today, appointments had to be scheduled online ahead of time and each visitor could only stay for 30 minutes.

On arrival, they had their temperatures checked and a member of staff went through handwashing and mask application with them before they were taken to meet their relatives.

In between visits, areas used were cleaned down by staff before the next appointment. Grant said the nursing home has not had a case of Covid-19 and she has confidence in the procedures they have put in place for visitors. 

Because of the good weather, some of the visits could also happen outside today, like this one between Michael Ronan and his wife Maura. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“Everyone here has dementia so there have been all of those usual anxieties of ‘will they recognise me?’ as well. Michael came in, his wife Maura is in the later stages of dementia and he brought his accordion with him,” Grant said.

“He says his wife has been listening to him play the accordion for 40 years so it’s his way of keeping that love between them.

“I witnessed them meeting for the first time a few minutes ago and she can’t express herself with words that are distinguishable anymore but she was trying to say hello and her eyes lit up when he started playing.”

At Middletown House in Co Wexford, it has been an equally emotional day. 

“We had a lot of people who used to come on a daily basis to see their husband or wife, living in the locality, and that’s all changed. Some have been cocooning themselves, so it’s been really difficult for everyone”, director of nursing Deepa George told TheJournal.ie.

Last week the nursing home had a full schedule of activities for residents including music and dancing, a gardening competition and a barbecue. 

“It was typical Irish weather, the residents all stayed inside because it was lashing and we brought the burgers into them. It happens every year when we try to do a barbecue,” she joked. 

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George said the home’s staff have been “amazing”, helping residents to feel safe and secure during a frightening time for older people. 

She said the new procedures are presenting a challenge, as the home can only facilitate six visits per day, but she said residents and their family members have been “so accommodating and supportive”.

“The visits can’t exceed a half hour, we have a designated room for visiting and staff will check the visitor’s temperature when they arrive, fill in a questionnaire with them and if they need a mask we will provide one.

“That all takes time and we need additional staff available to facilitate the visiting. It’s difficult but it’s so nice to see family back again.”

There were no cases of Covid-19 at Middletown House and George said staff are determined to keep it that way.

“They make a lot of sacrifices to come to work here,” she said.

“The guidelines are allowing people to do more now, but we are all watching our movements, not doing anything wild and exciting on our days off because we know the risks.”

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