THE Irish Defence Forces and the HSE Covid-19 Support Team are providing significant external support to an Ennis community hospital, which has been severely hit by staff defections following a major Covid-19 outbreak.
It is the first time that the Irish Defence Forces has provided non-medical logistical assistance to a long-stay residential facility in Clare since the start of the pandemic.
There were 20 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Cahercalla Community Hospital and Nursing Home earlier this week.
According to SIPTU, more than half of Cahercalla’s 60 healthcare assistants (HCA) 36, were out as positive cases or close contacts.
The union has outlined 12 out of the hospital’s 28 nurses were also off work and one nurse left.
One kitchen attendant and one cleaner were also off work.
However, the HSE has provided a total of 18 nurses and healthcare assistants and ten agency staff, which varies on a daily basis.
SIPTU health official, Mark Quinn has confirmed staff are working beyond the call of duty to cope with current staffing shortages caused by the virus.
While Dr Michael Harty acknowledged it might seem frightening for some people that the Defence Forces was assisting Cahercalla, he described this as a “wonderful use of this asset” and is grateful to Sarsfields Barracks in Limerick for providing this back up support.
The Cahercalla Board chairman explained a Covid-19 outbreak causes additional waste material that needs to be disposed such as used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The vaccination of Cahercalla patients and staff, who hadn’t contracted the virus, was brought forward and completed on Monday and Tuesday.
“The HSE liaised with the Commandant of the Irish Defence Forces in Sarsfields Barracks and he kindly allocated some staff to Cahercalla.
“The benefit of having the Defence Forces is they are a very professional, disciplined well organised organisation. Many of the Defence Forces on duty have been to every war torn corner of the world.
“It is wonderful use of an asset, which came to Cahercalla in a time of need. They provided logistical support to ensure every ward was supplied with PPE, ensure the facility is kept clean, facilitated waste disposal and maintenance of the facility.
“The Defence Forces played a key role in the setting up of four stations for a very successful vaccination programme.”
People who were vaccinated will receive a second dose in 28 days’ time. If a person is within 28 days of having a positive Covid-19 test, the vaccine isn’t administered.
However, confirmed Covid-19 cases can be vaccinated in a mop up vaccination programme at a date to be determined.
Having secured outside support, Dr Harty said Cahercalla has an adequate supply of staff to ensure the safe care and welfare of patients.
“It is a struggle, we are not unique and that is no comfort to patients or relatives but we have to deal with what is in front of us. It has been a very challenging time.
We continue to manage the nursing home well and work collaboratively with all agencies. The co-operation from every agency has been outstanding.”
Cahercalla has a capacity for 112 beds, including five community hospice beds funded by the HSE.
Dr Harty warned the virus can have a devastating impact for some patients with underlying conditions.
“Cahercalla is a community facility, which has received tremendous support and is held in high regard throughout the county. We strive to look after patients to the best of our ability to the highest quality standards to ensure their safe welfare.
“We will continue to do this. Unfortunately, this virus is silent, invisible and relentlessly transmissible. It has devastating consequences for people who have a vulnerability to the virus.
We are managing a situation which we don’t have control over and have to manage what is in front of us to the best of our ability,
“We are not perfect in everything we do but every decision we make is risk assessed to ensure the safety and welfare of patients are protected.”
Having avoided Covid-19 in the first and second wave, Cahercalla was hit when community transmission got out of control during Christmas and the New Year it was almost inevitable a hospital of this size would be exposed to the virus..
He outlined the new variant is significantly more transmissible
The first case was identified in Cahercalla at the end of December, staff were being swabbed on a two-week basis.
A resident contracted the virus on December 28 and subsequently the number of residents who contracted the virus increased.
Staff numbers were seriously hit by staff who were Covid-19 positive or close contacts as the virus spread in the community and the hospital forcing a large number to self-isolate.
This resulted in huge pressure on all staff including some managerial staff who had to go on Covid-19 leave.
While Cahercalla has been working collaboratively with the HSE and HIQA since the start of the pandemic, they required outside assistance after the outbreak.
The HSE Covid Response Team has been in daily contact to support Cahercalla before and particularly after the outbreak.
With Covid-19 outbreaks in other nursing homes and acute hospital facilities in the Mid-West, this Response Team doesn’t have a limited pool of staff.
On Wednesday, January 13 the HSE provided a clinical oversight support team came to Cahercalla in the form of a director and assistant director of nursing as previous personnel were off on Covid-19-related leave.
Cahercalla is contacting recruitment agencies on a daily basis to try and recruit more staff but every nursing home and other hospitals are also trying to recruit from a limited pool nationwide.
Staff have been asked to work extra shifts and longer hours as management strive to continue providing safe care to residents and look after staff.
“We are conscious we are asking people to do something we wouldn’t normally ask them to do. We have received substantial support from government agencies including HIQA.
The HSE has also provided assistance with infection control,” he said.
Cahercalla has secured derogations from the HSE to allow staff who are close contacts return to work early once they are swabbed, are negative and are not displaying any symptoms. Each case is examined on an individual basis.