THE number of nursing homes with Covid-19 outbreaks in the Midwest stands at 20, according to the most recent update from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
As high rates of community transmission spill over into enclosed settings, the number of outbreaks in this region has risen steadily since July. However, clusters of infection in private houses, of which there are 155 in the Midwest, account for the largest number of clusters.
Last week, a major outbreak at the nursing home in East Galway sparked concern about the capacity of the sector to cope with a second wave of the virus. The Nightingale Nursing Home in Ahascragh had 25 cases among 27 residents, with only one nurse and one carer available to cover at 72 hour period because of positive cases among other staff.
Councillor Ann Norton, director of the Clare Crusaders in Barefield, was sharply critical of the response of the Health Service Executive (HSE), saying that they had given the misleading impression of coming in to save the day. “While the HSE is leading people to believe they are saving the day, they’re actually only putting staff in for a matter of hours or days,” the Independent councillor said. “What is actually going on is that the HSE are trying to recruit staff for the acute hospitals and experienced personnel from nursing homes are their preference. What should be happening is that all of those people who offered their services to the Ireland’s Call initiative, and who haven’t even been contacted by the HSE, should be brought on board on the front line and given training. The HSE has been understaffed in terms of frontline staff for years and now that the pressure is on, they are looking at nursing home staff and that’s just not fair.”
Councillor Norton was also sharply critical of the fact that community health staff, including occupational therapists, are still deployed as contact tracers and swab takers. “If they could return to their roles, we could get older people assessed for a return to their own homes,” she said. “If we could get the young people who are unemployed because of the pandemic trained up into these roles, it would free up community health staff. Older people are the most vulnerable at the moment. Their care must be prioritised and nursing homes must be protected this time around.”
Clare’s Green senator, Róisín Garvey said she believed nursing home staff were very loyal and wouldn’t want to leave unless the HSE were incentivising roles at acute facilities.
“What should be done if that the students nurses that the HSE agreed to recruit should be paid properly and retained in the acute sector,” she said. “That would address the staffing deficit and mean that nursing homes would have a better chance of keeping staff. Nobody wants to see staff being moved around from one facility to another.”
Senator Garvey, who supported a campaign by the Midwest Hospitals Action Group earlier this year to source Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for nursing homes said she would be linking in again during the second Covid wave. “I will be checking in with nursing homes to make sure they have enough of these vital supplies,” she said. “You would assume that they are getting more this time around, but then again, you can’t make assumptions in a crisis situation.”
Earlier this month, the Dail’s Special Committee on Covid-19 response, chaired by Clare TD Michael McNamara, called for a public inquiry, saying it was “unable to get satisfactory answers as to why 985 residents of nursing homes died after they contracted Covid-19”.