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'Just ignore the bell': Whistleblowers raise concerns about patient care in nursing homes

In some homes Covid-positive and Covid-negative residents were placed in the same areas, Prime Time reported tonight.

Teresa Kelleher's mother, Margaret, died in Ballynoe during the third wave of Covid-19
Teresa Kelleher's mother, Margaret, died in Ballynoe during the third wave of Covid-19
Image: RTÉ Investigates

WHISTLEBLOWERS AND FAMILY members of people who died in nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic have raised concerns about how facilities handled the third wave of the virus earlier this year.

During the first wave of Covid-19 in March and April 2020, residents in nursing homes were 28 times more likely to contract the virus than those living in the community. Nearly 1,000 of these residents died – more than half of all Covid-related deaths at the time.

Now family members whose loved ones died during the third wave of the pandemic in January and February 2021 have said lessons were not learned from the earlier waves.

On Prime Time tonight, RTÉ Investigates reported that some nursing homes were quickly overwhelmed again earlier this year.

The programme reported that agency care staff brought in to assist in Cahercalla Nursing Home in Co Clare said they raised concerns with the health watchdog Hiqa about the standards of care being provided in the home, including Covid-positive and Covid-negative residents placed in the same areas.

Scabies outbreak

As a result of the concerns raised, Hiqa carried out an inspection. One whistleblower who spoke to RTÉ Investigates recounted being told not to answer a resident’s call when the bell was rung, “she just said to me don’t go down if he rings the bell, just ignore the bell”.

According to the programme, carers noticed that a number of residents had skin sores, including a woman who had clearly visible sores on her back and hand, “she asked me to scratch her back and I lifted up her vest there were two huge scabs on her back and they were so sore”. A number of days later an outbreak of scabies was reported in the nursing home.

As the third Covid wave unfolded, a whistleblower who cared for Margaret Kelleher in Ballynoe Nursing Home in Cork emailed the HSE stating: “I begged for intervention to try and save lives, I literally begged them.”

Twenty-one residents in Ballynoe Nursing Home died from Covid-19 in January and February.

Margaret Kelleher’s daughter, Teresa, said: “That is a staggering amount in a 51-bed nursing home. We really need answers into why did it get so bad. Why was the death rate so high? We need the answers for ourselves but also to prevent it happening elsewhere.”

Residents’ families have called for an inquiry to take place. In the same nursing home, Kathleen Thompson’s family had to watch her dying from an outside window.

Recalling this, her daughter Christine Brohan said: “She was in the room on her own dying, not knowing that we were there. For a woman who loved company to die on her own, it is something that we are never going to get over. When she did pass away my brother had to go around to the front to tell them.”

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Christine’s brother John Thompson added: “It doesn’t give us closure, you know, the fact that it’s ongoing at the moment … Hopefully when the inquiry is done something will come out of it, it will ease the pressure.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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