A Garda investigation into the death of a care home resident at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic may lead to multiple such prosecutions, depending on a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Gardaí have confirmed a criminal investigation is ongoing into “the circumstances surrounding the death of a female in a residential facility in Cork in February 2021″.
“As this is an ongoing criminal investigation An Garda Síochána has no further comment at this time,” a spokesman said.
The investigation focuses on a care home in Co Cork which saw a large number of fatalities in the first 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic which began in early 2020.
The Irish Times understands the investigation has been ongoing for a significant period of time and that a large number of interviews have taken place, including with relatives and care home staff. However, it remains unclear what, if any, criminal charges may be brought.
News of the Garda investigation was first reported in the Irish Independent newspaper.
Gardaí in Cork launched the investigation following a complaint from a relative of the deceased woman about the care she received before her death.
A number of other families later came forward with criminal complaints relating to the care of their loved ones in residential facilities. Their complaints were taken and they were informed to wait for the results of the initial investigation, which was described as a “test case”.
One man who lost a relative following alleged substandard care said he made a complaint at the end of 2021 and was told by gardaí “this was new ground for them”.
The ongoing investigation focuses on the care provided to the deceased woman during the most severe part of the pandemic when nursing homes were experiencing extremely high infection and mortality rates and struggled to maintain staff.
One in three of all Covid-19 deaths in the first two years of the pandemic occurred in nursing homes and other residential institutions.
Investigations into care at residential homes are normally undertaken by the Health Information and Quality Authority but gardaí believe the alleged mistreatment in this case may elevate it into the criminal sphere.
It will be for the DPP to decide if any charges are brought and their nature. One possible charge is gross negligence manslaughter, sometimes known as medical manslaughter or corporate manslaughter, said a legal source.
The evidential bar for proving gross negligence manslaughter is very high. Prosecutors must prove not only that negligent treatment occurred but that the negligence was of a very high degree and posed an obvious and severe risk of harm.
Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive and individual care home operators are facing dozens of civil wrongful death cases from families of deceased relatives relating to the care provided during the pandemic.
Just under 60 claims have been lodged against the HSE relating to deaths in residential units.
Forty-three of these relate to private care homes and 16 relate to acute hospitals or community settings, according to a breakdown from the State Claims Agency.