Funding scheme for nursing homes battling Covid-19 outbreaks extended

Nursing home sector calls for scheme to be kept under review in event of another wave in the autumn or winter

The Government has extended the funding scheme that helps private and voluntary nursing homes cover the cost of battling Covid-19 outbreaks amid the current summer wave of infections.

Minister for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler extended the Temporary Assistance Payments Scheme (Taps) by a further three months until the end of September to help residential care facilities facing “financial pressure” from the added costs of managing outbreaks.

The maximum monthly cap in the scheme has been reduced from €60,000 to €33,000 and will now cover only additional staffing costs that rise from Covid-19 outbreaks. Nursing homes will no longer be able to claim non-pay costs such as infection prevention and control expenses.

The Department of Health said the scheme had been “adjusted to target areas of need after considering the current circumstances of the pandemic”. It was first introduced in April 2020 after nursing homes struggled to deal with outbreaks during the first wave of infections.

The private nursing home industry welcomed the extension but called on the Government to keep the scheme under review in case it needs to be extended beyond September should nursing homes face another Covid-19 wave in the autumn or winter.

“It is welcome – there is no doubt about that. Covid hasn’t gone away,” said Tadhg Daly, chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, the representative body for private nursing homes.

“There is an understanding in Government that when you have an outbreak there are significant additional costs that have to be borne to safeguard residents and staff. The scheme does need to be kept under review because we don’t know what is coming.”

Nursing homes have been affected in the current Covid-19 wave caused by the new subvariants of the Omicron strain, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, in circulation.

The number of new outbreaks in nursing homes more than doubled in the week ending June 25th, the most recent week for which figures are available. There were 23 new outbreaks notified to the State’s health authorities during the week, compared with 11 the previous week.

Almost €136 million was paid out to 455 private and voluntary nursing homes under the Taps scheme from April 2020 to June 2022, according to figures released by the HSE last month.

Three nursing homes each received more than €1 million under the scheme: Bridhaven Nursing Home in Mallow, Co Cork; Orwell House Nursing Home in Rathgar, Dublin; and Lisheen Nursing Home in Rathcoole, Co Dublin.

A number of high-profile nursing homes that reported significant Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths among residents in the first wave of the pandemic more than two years ago were also among the largest recipients of the emergency State funds.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent