IN recent weeks, debate has been raging over the Covid-19 death toll in residential facilities across Ireland. Despite the differing political opinions, there is little doubt that those living and working in nursing homes were at the forgotten front line for a number of crucial weeks as the pandemic took hold. Keeping coronavirus out involves a heroic struggle against an ever-present enemy.
St Theresa’s Nursing Home in Kilrush, is one of the facilities that has managed to avoid an outbreak, while as many a quarter of homes in Clare have been affected to-date, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE). “My heart goes out to those who have had outbreaks,” said Yvonne Moroney, Director of Nursing at the family run facility on the Kilkee Road. “They have done everything in their power, but there is a constant risk and we are all living with that risk.”
Yvonne, who is on call 24/7 at St Theresa’s, has seen an already demanding job become even more hectic since the pandemic began. In early March, the nursing home took the decision to close to new admissions and to restrict visiting. Safe-guarding St Theresa’s 21 residents is Yvonne’s priority. “The pandemic has meant a cost has been felt in a few ways,” she told The Champion. “There is an emotional cost for residents, staff and all their families. The limitation of visiting and the inability to give a hug, even during the death of one of our residents, from a unrelated illness, is an example. We organised his funeral, as his brother who lives in the UK was unable to travel. Thankfully, his friends could celebrate with us at a distance, but this gentleman deserved a greater send off.”
While keeping residents and staff safe is to the forefront of everyone’s minds, separation from loved ones has been one of the hardest aspects of the lockdown and there is still no clarity on when family members will be able to access nursing homes. “Our residents have had to go from having unlimited visiting, to no visiting at all. We appreciate our residents needs and we cannot replace their loved ones, their families and friends.” Efforts to keep people’s spirits up have included music and dance, at a safe distance, from Patrick Roche, Aileen and Sticks and Yvonne’s own children Tadhg and Saidhbh. St Theresa’s has also made efforts to keep people connected. “We have provided window visiting from designated bedrooms, and also have areas where family members could stay with their loved one whilst they were unwell and sadly passed away.”
Staff too are also making huge sacrifices and Yvonne herself chose to live on-site at the early stages of the pandemic, in order to avail of on-line training and guidance.
“It has been stressful for the staff, as we are aware we are the reason our residents could become unwell,” she outlined. “We discussed, as a staff, the strategies required to limit risk. This included some staff isolating from anyone but those they lived with, and not going out to do their shopping. Plans were put in place for any potential outbreak, and organising accommodation on-site for staff to limit transmission to their own family.”
Describing herself as “blessed” with the team at St Theresa’s, Yvonne said her attitude is that no one person is more important than the next: “We each have a role and if we do that well, we work well.”
In political circles, points scoring over the nursing homes issue, is something Yvonne is very aware of. Remarks made by the Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd, during last week’s Covid-19 Committee, debate particularly affected her. The Louth Dáil deputy said the private sector was run by “very wealthy companies” and rejected a claim by Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) that the sector had been abandoned. “It is upsetting to see an elected representative with no clear perception on the reality of the private nursing home sector,” Yvonne said. “As owners and staff, we are both hurt and insulted that we would be tarnished with the misconception of every nursing home being profit driven.”
“Out of the difficulties and sadness of this pandemic it has brought us closer as a community,” she said. “It has highlighted the goodness of the people in our nursing home but particularly of the families and the wider community. The families have been very supportive of us during this time, entrusting us with their most precious relatives.”