A Co Louth nursing home that endured one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks of the pandemic is being sued by the daughter of a woman who died from the virus in the care facility.
Jane Gracia whose mother Valerie Anderson died in April 2020 at Dealgan House Nursing Home in Dundalk is taking a wrongful death claim against the privately owned care facility.
This is the first legal action against the nursing home arising from the death of a resident from Covid-19.
Ms Anderson was one of 22 residents who died at Dealgan House during a severe outbreak in the first wave of the pandemic that swept through many residential care homes.
The nursing home was so badly affected by the outbreak that the Health Service Executive had to call in staff from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland hospital group to run the care facility for several weeks.
It was the only nursing home to be taken over by a hospital group during the first wave.
Ms Anderson’s family have previously said they found it difficult to get information from the nursing home about the 80-year-old Dundalk woman as her condition deteriorated.
The mother of three died on Good Friday, April 10th, 2020. A test later confirmed that she had Covid-19.
Ms Gracia is being represented by law firm PA Duffy & Co which is acting for a number of families taking wrongful death legal actions against nursing homes and the HSE.
Her solicitor Enda McGarrity, who did not respond to a request for comment on this case, has previously said the firm has been instructed to take legal actions in which families are claiming that nursing homes failed to follow adequate measures to protect vulnerable residents from Covid-19.
Ms Gracia’s legal claim is also being taken against the HSE. Mr McGarrity has said that the HSE is being sued in its role as the administrator of public health in the State.
The case, filed in the High Court on Thursday, is the latest legal action against a nursing home arising from a Covid-19 during the pandemic.
The State Claims Agency, which defends legal actions taken against the HSE, has said that it had been notified of 41 claims in relation to Covid-19 infection and deaths by the end of January.
During the April 2020 outbreak, Dealgan House’s management team and staff were severely depleted by staff illnesses and isolation that at one point just seven of the nursing home’s 24 nursing staff were available to tend to residents in the 84-bed care facility.
At the height of the crisis, a volunteer, the granddaughter of a resident, stepped in to man the nursing home’s office, attempting to field 2,500 phone calls into the home during one week.
The crisis at the home led to Fintan Farrelly, father of Dealgan House's then chief executive Eoin Farrelly, emailing the State's chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan late on April 11th and then Minister for Health Simon Harris the next day seeking help for the nursing home.
A later report by the health regulator, Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), found the Covid-19 outbreak was compounded by staff shortages due to illness and isolation. It also found that there was inadequate communication systems and poor oversight of staff training needs and infection control practices.
Hiqa inspectors found in the October 2020 report that procedures in place during the outbreak had not ensured that family members of residents were kept informed of the resident’s condition or given the opportunity to be with their loved one at the end of their lives.
The nursing home was purchased from the Farrelly family by Curam Care Homes, the private nursing home chain, last August. The Irish Times attempted to seek a comment from Curam on the case.
Mr Farrelly has previously said he and his staff could not understand how the virus took such a toll at what he said was a “well-run nursing home with excellent qualified and caring staff”.
He could not be reached for comment.
The daughter of another Dealgan House resident who died at the nursing home and who didn’t want to be identified told The Irish Times that families who lost loved ones had been trying to find out what happened at the home for over two years.
“Individuals have used every avenue open to them to try to understand the facts. We are none the wiser and many still want simply to know the truth about a facility which was the only one where the HSE assumed operational control in wave one of the pandemic,” she said.
“People simply want to establish the truth. In the absence of any mechanism including a long-sought inquiry, it is highly likely that many will pursue the truth via litigation.”