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Many nursing homes taking 'cautious approach' to allowing visits despite green light from HSE

Many nursing homes, especially that have experienced Covid-19, are taking a more cautious approach.

Image: RollingNews.ie

IT COULD BE WEEKS until every nursing home in Ireland is able to receive visitors, even on a limited basis. 

While yesterday marked a return to a kind of normality for some nursing homes across the country, many were unable permit the return of visiting. 

When Phase Two of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions was announced, the government had earmarked 15 June for when visits could resume. 

However, an easing of visitor restrictions is at the discretion of each nursing home – meaning there’ll be no blanket lifting of the limits imposed on visiting to protect vulnerable residents from the virus, which has already proved highly deadly in nursing homes across the country. 

Nursing homes were at the centre of the pandemic in Ireland, with 63% of the country’s cases in long-term residential settings. It also saw a high proportion of all deaths in Ireland from the virus, prompting scrutiny and criticism of the speed of the government’s response. 

Tadhg Daly, the Chief Executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, said that many centres were taking a “cautious approach”. 

“They’re pragmatic and sensible. Families understand the priority is and always will be the safety and welfare of residents,” he told TheJournal.ie. 

While there were scenes of happy reunions yesterday in some nursing homes, others were unable to safely resume visiting. Some were unable to fully declare that their Covid-19 outbreak was over – a residential setting must have experienced no new cases of infection for 28 days, under HSE guidelines

Others had safely gone 28 days without a new infection, but still felt a slow approach was best. 

“If you have another case – a staff member or resident – you have to be 28 days clear and that might a rolling target,” Daly said. 

He insisted that while the return to visiting would be “phased”, staff had been looking at alternatives to indoor visits. 

For instance, some outdoor interactions might be facilitated in the days and weeks to come in places that don’t feel safe returning to indoor visits – even with strict new measures such as temperature checks and limited times on visits. 

Guidance, published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, recommends that each resident has a maximum of two named visitors, with only one visitor allowed to be present at any one time.

Some nursing homes were able to enjoy emotional reunions between residents and family members who hadn’t seen each other in months. 

“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, told TheJournal.ie. 

“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.

One nursing home worker in Galway, whose nursing home opened to visitors today, told TheJournal.ie that it was “lovely”.

“It’s hard on residents to keep two metres apart. They haven’t seen relatives for 12 or 13 weeks,” they said. “But the majority of people understand it.”

They also said that they were following the guidelines, but ultimately implementation was down to the capacity of the nursing home. 

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“The guidelines are set out, but it depends on the nursing home if they can tolerate the amount of footfall,” they said.  

With reporting from Michelle Hennessy. 

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