A nursing home resident was found on his hands and knees beside his own faeces after being locked in his room for 12 hours, the Workplace Relations Commission has heard.
A caregiver, whose name is listed as Varghese Mathew in a WRC adjudication, was assigned to keep an eye on the resident and denies locking him in his room.
But he is alleged to have used sign language to communicate with the resident through a glass window in the man’s bedroom door at the HSE facility in Co Donegal.
The resident, who had an intellectual disability, was only helped off the ground and washed when the caregiver was replaced at the end of his shift.
Subsequently suspended without pay and then dismissed for gross misconduct, he took his case to the WRC, claiming — unsuccessfully — he was unfairly dismissed in June 2021.
Former Home Instead managing director Martin Murphy, who owned and ran the company which provided a service to the HSE in Ballywaltrim at the time, told the WRC he was unaware of “any set of circumstances which would involve locking a service user in a room for 12 hours”.
He also said it was the caregiver's responsibility on finding the door was locked to get the key or to raise the alarm.
“He stated that using sign language to communicate with a service user through a door was not normal, that he had never heard of it before himself and that employees would not be instructed that this was the correct response,” the WRC heard.
Mr Mathew had worked at Ballywaltrim House, Raphoe, Co Donegal, from February 2019 until he was suspended without pay in April 2020 and eventually dismissed for gross misconduct.
On the night in question, he had taken over from another worker the role of observing a resident in isolation from 9pm on March 31, 2020, to 9am the following morning.
The resident had Covid and the former employee’s job was to observe him through the night.
He maintains he understood his duties to be “caretaker/doorkeeper” for the resident, who was locked in his room — something the former employee said he did not do, as he did not have a key to the bedroom.
He told the WRC he also understood “he was not to intervene and that he would communicate with the service user through the door”.
So, dressed in PPE, he said he sat outside the room “and observed the service user through the door”.
The WRC was told the caregiver understood he was not to come into one-to-one contact with the service user.
When the service user woke at 5am, he says he did not ignore him, he “spoke to him through the door which had a glass panel”.
His representative at the WRC hearing also said: “The complainant worked to calm the service user down.
“He remained there, his position is that there were no obvious difficulties and he provided that service user with care.”
It was, however, only when the former employee was relieved by a healthcare assistant that the resident was found in a distressed state.
Representatives for Donegal Home Care Ltd and Home Instead Senior Care Ltd said the caregiver’s role “was to ensure all necessary care was provided to the service user”.
But they told the WRC: “Upon unlocking the door, the healthcare assistant found the service user on his hands and knees on the floor in his bedroom.
“The healthcare assistant described the scene where he outlined that there was faeces on the floor and a few pieces of jigsaw puzzle.
“The healthcare assistant immediately assisted the service user, showering him and cleaning the bedroom which he stated had a very foul smell.”
Mr Mathew, who was claiming just under €18,000 in lost earnings, failed in his unfair dismissal claim.