WE were naive to imagine that the scandal surrounding Leas Cross Nursing Home meant we need not be so fearful about how older people, our parents, maybe uncles or aunts, maybe neighbours or friends, might be abused in a nursing home.
We were naive to believe that we, and more especially the supervisory authorities, had learnt the hard lessons and that no one would be abused or mistreated in an Irish nursing home again but we were wrong. The terribly sad, shocking revelations about the Rostrevor Nursing Home, in the affluent Dublin suburb of Rathgar, chastises us all, reminding us that we can never be less than demanding and vigilant when a vulnerable person is entrusted to the care of others.
It is a shaming indictment that we cannot rely on service providers to observe standards of decency, honesty and dignity when they take on the responsibility of caring for people made dependent by age or the death of a lifelong partner.
These obligations apply whether a person is in residential care or lives at home with the support of home help services. They apply too if that person is vulnerable through either intellectual or psychiatric difficulties.
The Rostrevor case is particularly disturbing because the home had the kind of record that should have singled it out for special attention by Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).
Six years ago the owner was fined €8,000 after pleading guilty to 10 breaches of regulations. The HSE asked the High Court to close the home in 2005 but its application was rejected. It would be nice to think, but probably naive, that those who made that decision might review their 2005 reasoning as time has proved them so very wrong. It is important too to recognise that the HSE was right but unable to prevent abuses because it was overruled.
Frighteningly, all of these issues are even more relevant now that the Fair Deal scheme for nursing homes is in such difficulty. One of the issues raised is the weak position of employees, especially foreign workers who depend on employers for work visas. Speaking yesterday Kathleen Lynch, the relevant minister, reiterated the need for legislation to protect whistleblowers.
Ironically, some of the workers at Rostrevor were nearly as vulnerable as the unfortunate residents. Some were so very afraid that they refused to co-operate with HIQA investigators, insisting that any interviews be held away from the home.
This once again highlights the need for strong legislation to protect those with the courage to speak up about wrongdoing or abuse.
Coming so soon after the terrible, heartbreaking revelations about the plight of carers having to cope with greatly reduced supports, it is hard not to think of this as a cruel, hypocritical society where, at the end of the day, it’s every man for himself.
All of our energy is focused on rebuilding our economy but we need to do so much more. Could it be that our economic collapse and the abuse at Rostrevor are just symptoms of a far blacker, deeper malaise? An indifference to the plight of others in their time of greatest need that will, in turn, come to haunt us all?
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