‘I literally begged for HSE intervention to save lives’

TV review: ‘RTÉ Investigates’ probed deaths in nursing homes during the third wave

The post-Christmas surge caught the Government by surprise. But, almost a year into the pandemic, protocols were supposed to be in place to guarantee the safety of those in care homes

The post-Christmas surge caught the Government by surprise. But, almost a year into the pandemic, protocols were supposed to be in place to guarantee the safety of those in care homes

 

Staring through the window, they watched their mother die alone. “She was in that room on her own… Not knowing we were there,” says Christine Brohan, recalling the death from Covid of her mother Kathleen Thompson in February. “For a woman who loved company to die on her own…”

The latest special report from RTÉ Investigates (RTÉ One, 9.35pm) looks at the plight of nursing home residents during the third wave of Covid in early 2021. The post-Christmas surge caught the Government by surprise. But, almost a year into the pandemic, protocols were supposed to be in place to guarantee, so far as possible, the safety of those in care homes.

Barry O’Kelly’s concise and hard-hitting inquiry reveals worrying gaps in the system. And the HSE comes across as far too sanguine. That is the only possible conclusion as it is revealed a care home worker had written in confidence to the executive alerting it to breaches in Covid measures at a facility.

“I am begging the HSE to go into the home and try save the residents,” the woman wrote in an email. The HSE didn’t respond until the next day.

Even then it seemed in little rush to intervene. A letter in response stated “it had been provided with reassurance by… management that they will do everything possible to address the natures of the concerns raised”.

There is firm and decisive action. And then there is a hand-waving email saying “management will do everything possible to address the natures of the concerns raised”.

The whistleblower is understandably still upset at the HSE’s reluctance to act. “I begged for intervention to try and save lives,” she says. “I literally begged them”.

RTÉ Investigates: Care In Covid is really three documentaries in one. O’Kelly opens with a report about a facility in north Co Dublin, where 18 residents would die during the 2020 first wave.

“You think about her – is she gone?” says Stephen O’Shaughnessy, who could not be with his mother Florence as she died. “It doesn’t feel like you can go through the normal grieving process.”

O’Kelly then moves on to a home where questions were raised with the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) about standards of care.

There were concerns that Covid and Covid-negative residents had been placed in the same area. And about a patient left alone in a darkened room. A whistleblower recalled receiving instructions not to respond to the individual’s calls. “She just said to me don’t go down if he rings the bell, just ignore the bell.”

The report concludes with the third wave and the death of Kathleen Thompson. Her son, John Thompson, calls for an official investigation into the care home sector’s handling of the virus. It’s a sobering reminder that it is only after Covid has passed that the country can truly reckon with its successes – and failures – during the pandemic.

“When she did pass away my brother had to go around to the front to tell them,” adds Christine. “It is something we are never going to get over.”

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