Creative solutions are needed to prevent a situation where nursing home residents cannot receive visitors for months, a specialist in geriatric medicine has said.
Professor Sean Kennelly, a consultant geriatrician at Tallaght University Hospital, Dublin has warned that nursing home residents may have to wait months to see visitors in the absence of a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19.
“I think that’s the potential and I think that’s what we have to prevent happening.”
Professor Kennelly said the pandemic was having significant psychological impacts on residents, in particular where outbreaks had occurred and had limited their engagement with others.
In some nursing homes, he said, ‘patio visits’ were being used as a way for residents to keep in touch with family and relatives.
“We can allow contact in a very controlled fashion onto the campus where we know residents who have recovered from Covid or residents who have no symptoms of Covid can at a distance actually meet their relatives,” he said.
“We need to find creative solutions around that,” Professor Kennelly told Morning Ireland on RTÉ radio, saying “I don’t think it’s acceptable that we can have a scenario where residents in nursing homes are locked down as we are relieving the lockdown in the rest of society.”
His comments come as health officials confirmed that 40% of all Covid-19 cases have been detected in the nursing home sector, which has now been given priority for testing.
The devastating impact of Covid-19 was laid bare on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme on Monday night when nursing home owner Lucy Flynn spoke about losing seven residents to the virus in recent weeks.
The owner of Millbury Nursing Home in Navan, Co Meath, which has been dealing with a Covid-19 cluster since March, said it was heartbreaking and one of the most difficult aspects of the viral outbreak.
“It is one of the saddest things to see that a proper goodbye can’t be done,” Ms Flynn told the programme.
“It was heartbreaking telling the families that they could not come into the nursing home and be with their loved ones, particularly at the very end stage,” she said.
“The residents and families come to the windows, they telephone, they WhatsApp, there are video calls but it’s not the same as the human touch, sitting beside the bed, holding your Mum or your Dad’s hand for the final time and this is truly heartbreaking,” she said.
The nursing home was also impacted by a loss of staff as the number of cases grew and many staff went into isolation after public health advice.
Initially, 15 staff went into isolation for two weeks but the situation escalated from there.
“There was a fear factor attached to Covid and many of my remaining staff said they had young children at home and they could not possibly expose themselves to catching Covid-19 and many shared homes with elderly parents with underlying medical conditions.
“As a result of that I had about 25 staff disappear for the first three weeks,” Ms Flynn said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish College of General Practitioners said that it is discussing ways to enhance GP support for nursing home patients with the HSE.
The organisations said the Covid-19 outbreak presented particular challenges for GPs caring for patients in affected nursing homes but that consultations were taking place either on site or via telephone or video.
Siptu has called on the Government to temporarily take over private nursing homes as it did with private hospitals.