CLARE GP and former Dáil deputy, Dr Michael Harty has said the while the ongoing ban on visitors to nursing homes was “a dilemma”, the time was not yet right to lift restrictions.
The Kilmihil-based GP said that, despite a call from the nursing homes regulator to look at allowing visits, the overriding concern had to be keeping Covid-19 out. Earlier this week, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) called on health officials to examine ways of easing restrictions, over concern for the welfare of residents.
“For elderly people, isolation from family and visitors is very restrictive,” Dr Harty said. “But, we must balance the dilemma that poses with keeping the virus out. Given the devastating impact that Coronavirus can have, the balance probably comes down in favour of the restrictions.”
Noting that some nursing homes were facilitating families to see residents at their bedroom windows, or by video call, Dr Harty said that these were the preferred option for now. “The situation is still fraught with danger,” he noted. “The nursing homes are very committed and working very hard to keep Covid-19 out. Concerns over its impact are still very valid and if innovative plans can be put in place, it can ease some of the isolation for residents and families.”
Among the nursing homes that are innovating, while still adhering to strict guidelines on visiting is St Theresa’s in Kilrush. “Letting visitors in is just not an option at the moment,” said Director of Nursing, Yvonne Moroney. “We have been able to facilitate people coming to talk to residents through the window and we have had some outdoor entertainment, using social distancing.” Ms Moroney whose background is in palliative care said the nursing home had been able to support a family whose loved one had passed away there recently. “It goes against the grain that someone would die alone,” she said. “If people wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and are prepared to self-isolate for a fortnight, they should be able to be with a loved one. I think that’s something that can be facilitated.”
The hardship for nursing homes residents, their friends and families was underlined by President of Active Retirement Ireland, Kay Murphy. “One of my closest friends is 100 years of age and in a nursing home,” the Shannon resident outlined. “She has problems with her eyesight and hearing, so going to a window wouldn’t work at all for her. We full agree with the restrictions, but being separated from loved ones is a big issue for our members. Some residents can have visitors come to the windows, but depending on someone’s condition, and on the layout of the nursing home, that isn’t always possible. We are very concerned at this time for all elderly people. If they contact our national office on 01-8733836 we will arrange local support for them.”
At Raheen Community Hospital in Scariff, the local support organisation recently raised €6,000 for an upgrade to the facility’s WiFi. “We were hearing of people who had to travel quite a distance to see their spouses, and after their journey could only talk to them at their windows,” William McLysaght, Chairperson of the Raheen Hospital Support Group said. “We organised the WiFi so that residents can now have better visual contact with family and friends and it means that the staff have the capacity to take part in video-conferencing too.” Mr McLysaght said the initiative was down to the support of people across Clare with many local organisations continuing to fund-raise intensively for projects including a planned now €408,000 kitchen facility.
Meanwhile, the HSE Midwest has told The Champion that video calls were being facilitated at community nursing units. “Virtual visits are facilitated all across our nine older person community nursing units during Covid-19,” a spokesperson said, adding that a donation of tablet devices from singer Niall Horan would shortly be put to use across the region’s long-term residential facilities.