Only 12 nursing homes did not report a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19 among staff or residents over the pandemic, the State’s health watchdog has found.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said between March 2020 and December 2021 that 91 per cent of nursing homes notified its chief inspector of at least one confirmed case of Covid-19 among staff or residents.
Hiqa has published an overview report on the chief inspector’s regulation of designated centres for older people in 2020 and 2021, which involved 947 inspections. Overall, nursing homes were found to be either compliant or substantially compliant with 85 per cent of the regulations that were assessed.
However, the watchdog said some relatives and friends of former nursing home residents “remain traumatised” by the experience of watching through a bedroom window “as a loved one passed away”.
It said providers and staff of nursing homes were also “severely impacted” by their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hiqa said after years of moving towards a “more homely, social model of care”, the pandemic caused “an instant reversal to a more medicalised model of care” in nursing homes.
The watchdog said the impact of Covid-19 on those living in long-term care residential facilities was “immense” while it continues to present “a challenge” to residents and providers of nursing homes.
“Undoubtedly, the single greatest issue for residents was a sense of isolation from families, friends and their wider community,” it said.
Hiqa said some residents told inspectors they had decided not to leave their rooms until a vaccine was found.
The report notes that at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, the chief inspector issued a regulatory notice that required providers to treat all deaths that may be associated with Covid-19 as an unexpected death.
In 2019, there were 7,700 deaths of nursing home residents, of which 709 were notified as unexpected deaths and 6,991 as expected deaths.
In 2020, the chief inspector was notified of 9,175 deaths of nursing home residents, of which 1,833 were unexpected deaths and 7,342 were reported as expected deaths. In 2021, there were 8,345, of which 1,895 were unexpected deaths and 6,450 were expected deaths.
Hiqa also said although the impact of Covid-19 on nursing homes was significant, it is “of concern” that the regulations most frequently found to be not compliant remain very similar to previous years. These include fire precautions, governance and management and premises.
It said since 2017 there has been “a notable increase” in legal proceedings regarding nursing homes. The chief inspector issued urgent applications in 2020 to cancel the registration of both Donore Nursing Home, Co Wicklow, and Oaklands Nursing Home, Co Kerry.
Both applications were issued on the grounds there was “a risk to life, or serious risk to health or welfare of residents because of the acts, failure to act or negligence of the registered provider”.
The HSE took over the day-to-day operation of both centres, and provided support to residents and their families in finding new nursing homes. The two centres were then closed.