NURSING home operators in Clare have spoken of their fears after a dramatic rise in the number of Covid-19 clusters in such settings nationally.
Some have revealed that they have had to introduce infection control procedures and cover the rising cost of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) themselves, while waiting for the recently-announced government supports to come on stream.
Figures published on Wednesday by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) showed a total of 86 clusters at nursing homes across the country. The data, which was collected up to midnight on Sunday, shows three of these are in the Midwest and ten in the West, with the majority in the East of the country.
“Clearly, nursing homes look after very immunocompromised people,” said Dr Billy O’Connell of Miltown Malbay. “An outbreak of Covid-19 could have terrible consequences.”
While he welcomed the new Department of Health fund for PPE, training, advice and staff-testing, as well as the support of Health Information and Quality (HIQA), he said the demands on nursing homes were unprecedented: “They have never had such stringent demands put on them as during the current crisis. They must have exemplary standards and it is very difficult to intensify clinical activities and hygiene levels on a continuous basis. When a centre is caring for patients with dementia, it is doubly difficult. I certainly welcome the assistance of HIQA, but given the number of homes, it will be hard for them to make a big impact.”
Given the high prevalence of Covid-19 in the Dublin area, the Director of Nursing at St Theresa’s in Kilrush made an appeal to people not to travel to the West of Ireland over Easter. “There are currently four nursing homes in Kilrush,” Yvonne Moroney noted. “In recent days, we have noticed an increase in traffic towards Kilkee and faces unknown to us from outside of the area in local shops. I am enormously concerned for the safety of our residents and staff during this pandemic.” Ms Moroney said that she herself had been living on-site since last Sunday with other staff also cocooning in there interests of the welfare of nursing home residents. “We introduced restrictions early and everything possible is in place from disinfectants to sanitisers and twice daily temperature-taking for staff. We have also increased our stock of PEE ourselves, and that has really risen in price since the crisis started. We are just hoping to God that Covid-19 never comes near us.”
At Carrigoran Nursing Home in Newmarket-on-Fergus, the team were also ahead-of-the-curve in terms of preparations. CEO Valerie Vaughan outlined a raft of measures taken to reduce risk to residents and staff, including the installation of disinfectant foot baths, sanitising stations, temperature-testing and segregation of changing facilities.
“All staff and residents are virus-free,” Ms Vaughan said. “That is thanks to the staff because none of them lives on-site, and all of them travel everyday. We have nine apartments on the grounds and we have been preparing them for isolation facilities if, God forbid, we should need them. We have also closed our grounds to the public. That was with a heavy heart, but it means residents are safer.”
Efforts to keep morale up and to connect residents with loved ones, at a time when visiting nursing homes is prohibited, are also being introduced.
At St Theresa’s Nursing Home, the An Post pre-paid postcard initiative was used “in reverse” the Director of Nursing said. “We also took photos of residents and sent them to their families and that provided a lot of comfort to them.”
At Carrigoran, residents are able to keep up with some of their regular activities and have received support from pupils at St Caimin’s Community School in Shannon. Under the guidance of chaplain, Cora Guinnane, they wrote to everyone living there and sent their best wishes by email, which staff then passed on to residents.
“We have also been able to do bingo on the corridor,” said Valerie Vaughan. “People can keep their distance and still be active. We’ve had skittles on the corridor too, necessity is the mother of all invention. It is helping to keep morale up at time when all of us are so very worried.”