The niece of one of the residents at the centre of one of the country’s deadliest Covid-19 clusters wants a full inquiry into what happened.
Tereza Kieran says no member of her family and none of his friends visited her uncle Aódh Kieran for nearly two months before he contracted Covid-19 at Dundalk’s Dealgan House.
The 72-year-old is believed to have been the first resident to test positive there. He subsequently died on Apr 9 and “many” more of the 23 residents who died in Apr also succumbed to the virus.
Local Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú, has called in the Dáil for a full investigation into how the spread started and why it spread to so many residents so quickly: “A number of relatives of those who have tragically died at the home want a full investigation into what happened. We also also have to make sure that there exists the best conditions to maintain best practice.”
The situation in Dundalk is the latest in a series of shocking death tolls in the country’s nursing homes and other community residential settings. And by the end of April, there were Covid-19 clusters in more than 210 of the country’’s 540 private and HSE-run nursing homes.
As of Thurs, May 7, more than 840 people had died in nursing homes and other residential settings — these deaths account for more than 60% of the total 1,403 number who have died of Covid-19 in Ireland.
The worst affected residential care setting is St Mary’s Hospital in Dublin’s Phoenix Park where 24 have died from Covid-19. And at least 10 people have also died at Cork’s Clonakilty Community Hospital since Apr 1.
“Blame is a wonderfully easy thing to bandy about at times like this. One way or another, we need to find out why this happened on the scale it did and in finding that out, make sure it doesn’t happen again," said Ms Kieran.
Eoin Farrelly, managing director of Dealgan House Nursing Home, said: “Dealgan House Nursing Home offers our sincere sympathies to the families and friends of those who have died due to Covid 19. Those 23 residents who tragically died since April 1 — many of which were Covid-related — were people whom we got to know and love while caring for them, some over many years. All of us are heartbroken at their death and their family’s loss.”
Nursing Home Ireland (NHI) have released the findings of a survey undertaken by 233 private and voluntary nursing homes.
It has found that 306 senior and general nursing staff and 606 healthcare assistants are among 1,152 staff not currently available for work due to Covid-19. It also found that despite this, the deployment of HSE staff to nursing homes continues to amount to “small numbers” with only around 40 HSE nurses being deployed and 26 healthcare assistants as well as 13 other staff.
The survey also found that 40% of nursing homes said they do not have sufficient supply of face masks, despite recently introduced HSE policy that face masks should be worn when in close contact with a resident.
Tadhg Daly, NHI CEO said: “Nursing homes remain under immense pressure in managing Covid-19. Pressures continue to be applied across staffing, PPE and testing. Seismic challenges persist. With approximately half of private and voluntary nursing homes completing the survey, the indication is 2,000+ staff are unavailable due to Covid-19. Missing such a significant staffing complement places a huge strain upon the sector.”
Fianna Fáil Health spokesman, Stephen Donnelly, who first raised the issue of nursing home clusters in the Dail early last month, said: “What has happened at Dealgan House is a tragedy for all concerned. It’s important that a short review is done to see what lessons can be learned and applied quickly in our fight against Covid-19. A more thorough review into Dealgan House and other long-term care facilities must also be considered.”
"It's no way to say goodbye to someone"
If saying goodbye to her beloved uncle wasn’t bizarre enough, watching his cremation later flipped the experience into something like a “snuff movie” for Tereza Kieran.
She says the death and the funeral of Aodh Kieran - who died alone in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda - is something she is still struggling to come to terms with.
The only way she could say goodbye to him was over a phone held to his ear by a nurse dressed head to toe in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
And she could only watch his cremation on a live video feed.
“It’s no way to say goodbye to someone,” she said.
Aodh was the first of “many” residents at Dundalk’s Dealgan House nursing home to be tested positive and subsequently die.
The 72-year-old, who had Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), started to fall ill at the home on March 27.
By March 31, he had been rushed to hospital weak with fever and breathing difficulties.
The first of two tests for Covid-19 came back as a negative.
But doctors were so alarmed about his symptoms, they decided it was a false negative, warned the home about this and then they tested him again.
That test came back positive.
Aodh, who never regained consciousness after he entered intensive care, was also placed on a ventilator, where he remained until his death on April 9.
Before it was switched off, Tereza - who has been in isolation for the past nine or so weeks due to an underlying health condition - was called by a nurse.
Dressed in full PPE, they picked up a phone and held it in their gloved hand to his ear.
“They were lovely,” Tereza recalled. “They told me they were talking to him, even though he was unconscious and heavily sedated and they kept a diary for us of his progression.
“They do that for families who can’t be there.
“On the day they were going to turn off his life support, they took a phone into him, called me and put the phone to his ear as he lay there.
“They also held his hand as I spoke to him.
“I just said, ‘Look, you have put up a good fight and it’s now time to go and be with your mam and dad. You don’t need to fight any more, just be happy’. And I told him I loved him very much."
She added: “It was heartbreaking to be in that situation.
“I grew up with him and I have been very close to him all my life and to not be able to hold him or to say good-bye to him is just surreal.”
Doctors later told her he “went very quickly” after life support was turned off.
“It was very emotional because I couldn’t get up to see him.” she said. “And it was also emotional because it had been so long since I had seen him.
“But it has also been bizarre. The service for him afterwards was online, via video. It was really weird. It didn’t seem real and it still doesn’t seem real.
“In Ireland, we are very big on funerals because of the closure element and I don’t feel there has been any closure.
“I don’’t feel like he’s gone. It was just so surreal watching his service and cremation on TV. It’s like how I imagine watching a snuff movie must be like. Or a horror movie. It didn’t feel right.”
She believes there needs to be an inquiry.
“After all, we have to accept this is a highly infectious virus that we have never had to deal with before.
“But someone has to be accountable, and I don’t know who that is."