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'We're on tenterhooks': Nursing home staff worried about nationwide rise in Covid-19 cases

After bearing the brunt of the outbreak earlier this year, the nursing home sector is worried at the resurgence of the virus.

Nursing homes are worried about the rise in Covid-19 cases.
Nursing homes are worried about the rise in Covid-19 cases.
Image: Shutterstock/David Pereiras

WEEKS AFTER MANY nursing homes faced the devastating impact of Covid-19 outbreaks, many are now looking at the rising number of new cases across the country with fear and alarm. 

In recent days health officials have expressed alarm about the spike in coronavirus cases, with the government responding by introducing new restrictions in a bid to suppress the virus once again. 

Officials in the nursing home sector say they’re harbouring concerns about what comes next. 

Nursing homes largely bore the brunt of the pandemic in Ireland, with the 985 deaths among residents accounting for 56% of the country’s coronavirus-related deaths. 

Some new cases have been reported in nursing homes in recent days. 

Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents privately owned nursing homes, is calling for an ‘early-warning system’ that could see nursing homes informed if there’s a rise in coronavirus cases in a local area. The nursing home would then be able to decide whether to introduce fresh restrictions on visitors. 

Tadhg Daly, the CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, said the current situation is “very concerning for nursing homes”. 

“We’ve seen the devastating impact the virus has had,” he said. “The last thing we need is to see it introduced to nursing homes that never had an outbreak or re-introduced to other nursing homes.”

Daly said that issues such as supply of PPE and the rate of testing, which had caused tension between nursing homes and the HSE during the early stages of the crisis, had largely been resolved. 

And while he pointed to some issues with the turnaround times for testing and staff not all receiving test results at the same time, he indicated that another major concern was the well-being of staff. 

“There is a genuine concern for staff about their ability to face into a further spike in cases,” he said. 

“People are on their guard every single day of the week.”

‘On tenterhooks’

Norma Sheehan, the Director of Nursing Saint Josephs Shankill, said that the nursing home was constantly refining infection control measures. 

No new measures have been put in place yet and while strict rules remain around visiting, including limits on how many visits can take place each week, nothing has been changed since the recent spike in cases. 

Sheehan said that it felt like they were “constantly waiting” for a potential outbreak.

“Everyday you’re on tenterhooks,” she said. 

The nursing home specialises in dementia care and she said it was particularly difficult to diagnose Covid-19 symptoms among dementia patients. As soon as staff spot something abnormal, she said, a resident will be tested. 

“You never know the day you’re going to have somebody positive,” she said. “How is it going to be introduced into the nursing home? It’ll be through staff or visitors.”

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She said that Saint Josephs Shankill was set to discuss what precautions staff should be taking once schools return in a few weeks’ time. 

While she said that there were no major concerns currently regarding children, who are still allowed to visit the nursing home, she said it was about trying to take as many precautions as possible.

“We’re constantly looking to see if there’s anything we can do.”

On Wednesday, a major report into how nursing homes responded to the Covid-19 crisis called for a review of the employment terms and conditions of staff, while also calling for systematic reform in the care of older people. 

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