Irish Examiner View: Not enough being done to protect residents or staff of nursing homes

Outdated regulations and Covid-19 prove a perfect storm
Irish Examiner View: Not enough being done to protect residents or staff of nursing homes

 Oaklands Nursing Home at Listowel, Co Kerry, was taken over by the HSE. Picture Dan Linehan

The chaotic situation at Oaklands Nursing Home in Listowel, Co Kerry, where eight residents have died of Covid-19, is a sad and tragic reminder that constant vigilance is needed to ensure the safety of everyone in such environments. 

A report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) in July on the impact of the pandemic on nursing homes in Ireland found that the regulations governing nursing homes are outdated and must be revised to make them fit for purpose. 

A number of initiatives were also introduced, such as Hiqa’s Infection Prevention and Control Hub, the resumption of a programme of risk-based inspections, and the expedition of applications to open new nursing home beds.

Welcome and all though those initiatives are, it is clear that Hiqa, as regulator of these facilities, has not done enough to make them any safer for residents and staff. 

A total of 51 nursing homes around the country are currently dealing with an outbreak of the virus

Most nursing home residents are elderly, which may explain why 63% of Covid-19 deaths in the Republic occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care settings.

This is the highest proportion of 14 western countries studied by scientists at the University of Cambridge and Institut Pasteur in Paris. 

The study, led by Irish scientist and UCC graduate Megan O’Driscoll, shows Covid-19 mortality has hit older people here to a greater extent than most other countries.

Relatives of those who died at Oaklands are furious that action was not taken sooner by Hiqa against the home, which was run by Listowel-based Bolden (Nursing) Ltd. They have every reason to be. 

Despite a long history of non-compliance with health and safety regulations and being the subject of repeated investigations, the home’s registration certificate was only cancelled last week.

When staff there were warned in advance by Hiqa that its inspectors would call to the home on February 25 and May 7, it was found to be compliant with infection control regulations. 

However, when inspectors turned up unannounced on June 18, they noted several breaches of regulations. They also discovered there was nobody actually in charge of the home.

A further inspection on November 4 found that residents who had tested positive for the virus were mingling with others who did not have the disease, Listowel District Court heard last week before granting an order putting the HSE in charge.

The court heard that a HSE team that entered the nursing home on November 4. 

The team found a centre in chaos where there was a serious risk to life. 

All but one of the 24 residents remaining at the nursing home tested positive for coronavirus.

Gerry Kennedy, whose 77-year-old brother Sean died of Covid-19 at the home on November 13, put it best, when speaking to the Irish Examiner.

“If the Food Safety Authority found a restaurant was not compliant with various food regulations, it would go in and close it down immediately,” he said.

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