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Vicky Ward, Carer Support Manager with Family Carers Ireland, posting re usable masks, at Sixmilebridge Post Office, made by volunteers, to family carers around the country to help with efforts in combatting the Covid19 pandemic crisis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Caring continues under Covid-19 pressures

CARERS impacted by Covid-19 restrictions are struggling with a lack of respite and home support visits, but keeping their spirits up through check-in phone calls, virtual quizzes and even Zoom bingo.

While home care continues to be provided, many carers have chosen to cocoon alongside their loved ones, and paused their services voluntarily. The restrictions have also placed a big burden on charities providing support to family carers, as they have meant key fund-raising activities have been curtailed.

“We are still 100% open and taking new cases, but our home visits are limited,” explained Margaret Naughton, from Ennis, who works with Jack and Jill, a home nursing care service for children. “At this stage, the only visits we make would be for end-of-life and palliative care.” The Specialist Children’s Liaison Nurse works with 30 families across Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary, and said her daily contact are, for the most part, made by phone. “They’re not always easy calls, and my heart goes out to the families,” she said. “Most of them would have chosen to go into semi lock-down very early on because when there’s any bug at all in an area, they would be automatically on high alert. Now, many of them are getting no break at all and would often have extra demands in terms of home-schooling other children. Without home visits, the calls are a life-line. I keep track of the child’s condition and will liaise with medical care teams to make sure they’re looked after and that parents are getting support.”

Family Carers Ireland, which is a national organisation and provides support to those in Clare from its Ennis office, is continuing to deliver home care. “We haven’t reduced any services,” explained Care Support Manager Vicky Ward, “but some families have voluntarily paused their packages in order to cocoon. That means that some people will be caring 24/7 without any support or respite, so it’s very tough.”

Because staff are still going into people’s homes, Vicky noted that they have been relatively well supplied with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): “We would be buying it regularly ourselves, but the HSE has been able to supply us with more. We follow the [public health] guidelines closely. When it comes to personal care – like giving someone a shower – we are very conscious that keeping two metres away isn’t possible, so the hygiene and infection control procedures are essential.”

Given that carer support meetings are no longer happening, keeping communication lines going is a big priority currently, Vicky added. “We are finding new ways to stay in touch with our members. I’ll be posting emergency care plans to people who need them. We’re also making up care packages to send out for children to help keep them busy. Our calls with members are so important now and we’re still helping with all of the routine things like making applications for support and so on.”

Despite the challenges carers are facing, some have found beneficial aspects to the lock-down.

“In one case, I had a mum who told me her little one had come on in leaps and bounds because of brothers and sisters being at home and having more time to play and help out looking after them,” said Margaret. “If a second parent is at home now too, that also means there can be more support.”

For Vicky, new technology has provided a way to keep in contact with family carers and to keep their spirits up. “We have email and Facebook and we’ve been able to organise a virtual table quiz for members because we’re finding that everything in life now seems to relate to Covid-19 and people really need a break and something different to think about. Next week, we’ll be using Zoom to organise bingo. By the time we get everyone up and running, even before we start the bingo, we’re sure to have had a good laugh!”

Funding services is a concern for both Jack and Jill and Family Carers Ireland who, like all charities, have seen their schedule of fund-raising events drastically reduced.

“Right now we’d be having things like tractor runs, which mean so much to us,” explained Margaret. “Our family day, which is an amazing event, won’t go ahead this June.” Jack and Jill faces a funding shortfall of €500,000. Their #WeCare campaign invites people to donate €4 by texting 50300 and the charity’s Facebook page is posting photos of client families and their siblings. “We had a lovely picture from one of the families we had helped in Feakle. It was really great that they were still thinking of us during the current situation and it meant so much.”

Family Carers Ireland have benefited from a €50,000 donation from Tesco, which has covered the cost of some PPE, and have also accessed support from the JP McManus Foundation. “Nationally, Irish Life have provided €350,000 to support carers through the crisis,” Vicky said. “We have been lucky, but our scheduled fund-raising events have been cancelled, so that is a huge loss to us. I’ve set up an iDonate page and called it ‘Fiver Friday’. We are hoping that because people aren’t really getting out for a fancy coffee on a Friday, they might think about donating that fiver to us. It would really make a huge difference to our carers.”

About Fiona McGarry

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Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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