If you judge a society by how well it treats its old people, then we have failed miserably in recent months. Covid-19 swept into our residential care facilities and accounted for over 60% of all virus-related deaths.
This week, a Hiqa report revealed the trauma of nursing home residents who felt fearful, confused, angry, frustrated, and lonely during lockdown. Some residents even vowed to stay sequestered in their room until a vaccine was found.
The health watchdog also found governance failings, staff shortages, and lack of infection control measures. Staff, some of them among the lowest-paid in the sector, were so overwhelmed in some cases that they left their jobs for good.
The pitiful sight of relatives paying ‘window visits’ to their loved ones is an enduring image of recent months. However, in some cases, they were the lucky ones. Covid-19 restrictions robbed others of the final goodbye and, as we are hearing, sometimes led to bitter rows in families forced to pick a single visitor.
The outrage felt by so many needs to be aired, but let’s use it as an opportunity to implement real change and modernise the sector. A draft Oireachtas report does just that with recommendations for sweeping reform of the sector.
As we face the issues posed by an ageing population, we will have to think of new ways to care for and protect older people.