Family losing hope in search for nursing home resident


The family of an elderly woman who went missing from a nursing home in Co Wicklow in the early hours of St Stephen's Day fear they are now searching for a body.

Maura Reynolds (78), who suffers from "extreme dementia", walked out of Tara Nursing Home in Bray unseen by staff. Her son, George Reynolds, said last night: "One has to expect that she has died."

The emergency services mounted a major air and sea search operation, involving the Garda helicopter and Coast Guard. Leaflets with a description of the woman were distributed to motorists and pedestrians yesterday, and searches continued along Bray beach - about 300 yards from the nursing home on Putland Road.

One neighbour reported hearing banging on a window on the night the woman went missing and Mr Reynolds believes she could have collapsed in someone's garden.

"We're hoping people will check outhouses, gardens and hedges to see if she is there."

The mother of three, who has nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, was said to be "remarkably upbeat" in recent times despite being diagnosed with both Alzheimer's disease and cancer of the spine.

Mr Reynolds said the latter had left her with a severe stoop, and restricted her walking distance to "a maximum of 100-200 metres".

He noted she had spent Christmas Day with family in west Dublin and was dropped back to the nursing home at 9.30 pm. "She normally does not like to be back, and she was a bit agitated," he continued. "She was talking about needing to see a doctor and that she had a doctor's appointment. But she went to bed and was seen by the night orderly at 12.30 am.

"At 6.30 am, she was gone. Her bed was made up. It seemed she had wandered into the kitchen, where someone had left a key in the door, and she got out." He added: "That should not have happened. If that door was locked my mother would be alive. That question ... might be addressed at a future stage. But at the moment we are just thinking about finding her."

She is described as 5'4" with white hair, and was believed to have been wearing a purple suit.

Paul Costello, joint-director of the nursing home, said staff and patients were "very upset" about the incident which was the first of its type he had experienced in 10 years' in the business. He stressed the "normal complement" of staff was on duty on the night but "it appears she got a key - from where we don't know - which allowed her get through the kitchen door."

There was a balance to be struck between giving dignity to the patient and creating "prisoner" like conditions, added Mr Costello, who is chairman of the industry representative group, the Irish Nursing Homes Organisation.

A spokeswoman for the Health Service Executive (Dublin Mid-Leinster) said the disappearance could be raised at its next inspection "depending on the circumstances in play".