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Coronavirus in Irish nursing homes: 'They can't have a family member holding their hand'

A total of 209 clusters have been identified in the country’s nursing homes and residential institutions.

Image: Shutterstock/Stokkete

HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE said they are looking to expand the testing of Covid-19 to nursing homes where no cases or clusters have been reported, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. 

A total of 209 clusters have been identified in the country’s nursing homes and residential institutions, as of midnight on 11 April. 

Speaking yesterday evening Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said The National Public Health Emergency Team is monitoring developments in long-term care facilities and “continues to advance supports and actions were needed”.

Holohan said that one thing the NPHET has looked at is trying to do sampling work in nursing home settings that haven’t identified clusters so the virus can be identified in other settings. 

Trade Union Siptu reached an agreement with the HSE this morning on the voluntary redeployment of health workers to private nursing homes, in a bid to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The redeployment of Siptu members is “strictly on a voluntary basis”, according to Siptu Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell. 

“Volunteers will come from across the nursing, health care assistant, cleaning, chef and catering assistant disciplines. Our members will remain completely under the management of the HSE and will be assigned for agreed periods of time,” said Bell, adding that members will also be provided with an adequate supply of PPE for their tasks.

‘It’s not easy’ 

One nursing home in the east of the country has criticised the government’s response so far, saying that guidelines should have been in place for long-term care facilities as a priority in line with national legislation. 

The nursing home provider told Morning Ireland that a considerable number of its residents in the 34-bed facility have tested positive for Covid-19, and in recent days, three patients have died.

“I sent emails, I didn’t get a response to them. My words were that it will be potentially catastrophic to nursing homes if Covid comes in… And it is.” 

She said she received an “alarming” memo on 21 March which said if two cases were confirmed among residents in a long-term care facility, anyone else there would be assumed to have Covid-19 and would not have access to a test.

“There were other residents that fit the criteria for testing. But their referral was redundant, because of the policy, they changed the criteria last Thursday.” 

After the criteria change, she says many of the residents tested positive for the virus. 

“We have unfortunately had some bereavement, and it’s been especially difficult when we know our residents so well, and we know that they’re so vulnerable, that they can’t have a family member holding their hand and being around their bed. 

Screenshot 2020-04-15 at 10.59.56 Source: HPSC

Families have been able to visit their loved ones, but only through the window.

“We’ll just leave families just talk and if they want to and pass any messages in over the window.

“It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that, and especially when you’re dealing with residents who you love as well. ”

She said the home had to procure their own PPE and any of the procurement orders that were placed weren’t fulfilled.  

“To put it into context today I got 15 gowns. Yesterday, I got 18 gowns,” she said, adding that it is “absolutely not” enough, “not even for an hour”.

“We are fighting locally here, so hard. Beyond belief, we are doing everything that we can for our residents.”

Tweet by @Simon Harris TD Source: Simon Harris TD/Twitter

Health Minister Simon Harris is to meet with Nursing Homes Ireland this Friday to discuss the outbreak and see what else can be done to slow the spread of the virus in the sector. 

Harris says that up 350 of the countries 500 or more nursing homes are still Covid-19 free.

“Many of our using homes still hasn’t seen the coronavirus. And the nursing-home owners and staff are working really hard to keep people safe, to keep residents safe, and to keep staff safe,” Harris said on Twitter.

“I want to do everything that is humanly possible to protect older people and people with underlying health conditions, many of whom reside in our nursing home.” 

In a tweet this morning, Harris said 77 people diagnosed with Covid-19 have been discharged by ICU so far. 

About the author:

Adam Daly

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