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Community activist shaken by online abuse

Champion Chatter

A COMMUNITY activist was shaken by the vile online abuse she experienced after posting a video seeking support to deal with a major outbreak of Covid-19 at Cahercalla Community Hospital and Hospice, Ennis.

Hillary Tonge spent weeks organising the manufacture and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with others to nursing homes throughout the county including Cahercalla last May.

On Saturday, January 16, Ms Tonge recalled she was contacted by a very stressed Cahercalla staff member, who outlined staffing issues, presented a letter written by Board chairman, Dr Michael Harty, and requested her assistance.

In view of the role played previously by the Mná ag Gaire Women’s Shed group making PPE for nursing homes, Ms Tonge posted a video on Facebook seeking the public’s help under the group’s name.

In an interview with the Clare Champion, Ms Tonge confirmed she did make efforts to contact Cahercalla management on Saturday, January 16 by phone but couldn’t get through.

Dr Harty’s letter outlined “due to unsustainable pressures placed on all staff in Cahercalla but particularly on the managerial staff by the global Covid-19 pandemic and, in addition to the outbreak in Cahercalla over the past two weeks, the HSE has been asked to provide a replacement management team on an interim basis to ensure the continued safe care and welfare of the residents and the well being of staff.

“The exhaustion and unbearable stress resulting from continuous long working days without a break over the past two weeks has taken its toll on the senior clinical and administrative team.

“They are physically and mentally exhausted and need a period of time to recover. This is in no way a reflection on their ability or commitment to Cahercalla, but is due to the relentless toll that this virus has placed on so many aspects of our lives.

“I wish to thank all staff for their support and commitment to the provision of care to residents in Cahercalla before and during this pandemic and ask that you give every assistance to the temporary replacement managerial team when they take up their posts on January 13, 2021.”

Dr Harty acknowledged he had unwittingly caused some confusion by the wording of his letter.

He explained it was important for him to explain to staff the recent managerial changes when they came to work on Wednesday, January 20.

“I wrote the letter late on Tuesday evening. It was a very pressurised time. I may have contributed to some misunderstanding because I referred to a new management team when I should have referred to a clinical oversight support team.

“I take responsibility for that and I have apologised. It was an unintentional error of mine to use the incorrect terminology.”

Dr Harty said social media posting on Saturday evening, which was subsequently taken down, was inaccurate in its tone and content and did cause unnecessary and heightened anxiety among the public, relatives of staff and staff.

If someone wished to help Cahercalla, he said they should approach them and find out what assistance was needed.

Dr Harty accepts that Ms Tonge did not set out or intend to cause any distress to anyone, and had good intentions.

If Ms Tonge could have foreseen the “horrible” online reaction to her video, she acknowledged she would not have used this group’s name.

“Maybe my delivery was a bit strong but I didn’t intend to be the announcer of Covid-19 in Cahercalla, I assumed everyone knew. I wasn’t aware I was informing families because I assumed families knew and I was offering help

“I didn’t say staff were not doing their jobs or there was no food in the hospital. We have the utmost respect for staff during these very difficult time. It was not done to frighten family and friends of patients because I was told they had been informed during last week.

“I apologise if I offended anyone with anything I said because that was not my intention. I wasn’t lying.

“I thought we could help the staff by preparing meals for when they got home or doing their shopping.

“To be branded a liar by many is totally unfair, my numbers were wrong, but testing is only beginning. I never realised how easy it is to bully a person online. I have received some horrible and upsetting texts, which have really disturbed myself and my family. I think everyone should consider posting before abusing a person on social media.”

Ms Tonge is very upset at being called a liar and feels unfairly vilified and criticised as the messenger.

“It got out of hand on Facebook with people arguing with each other. I had to turn it off. I never put up a video before in my life .

“I was shocked with the level of animosity, maybe I was a bit naive. The negativity towards Mna ag Gaire was the most upsetting because that’s not what we are about. I don’t want any of the 205 members in the group to be associated with any of this negativity because it is a fantastic group and we are doing very well and are getting a premises,” she said.


She also got a lot of private messages from women offering help to staff.





She also got a lot of private messages from women offering help to staff.

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