‘It is great to get in to see her’ – relatives delight in nursing home visits again

Families enjoy first in-person visits for months as Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed

Ray Smith visited his wife Carmel, a resident at Orwell Private nursing home in Dublin, on Monday, for the first time since just before Christmas, before "the big lockdown".

Their face-to-face visit meant that his wife of almost 60 years was not just at the end of a phone line but that he could hold her hand again.

“She is not able to speak but at the same time she knows I am there,” he said.

“You don’t really know what’s happening unless you go in. You get telephone calls but it doesn’t really compensate for face-to-face visits. It is great to get in to see her.”


The couple were among the first beneficiaries of the relaxation in nursing home restrictions as a drop in infections as a result of vaccinations makes visits safer again.

From Monday, nursing homes with a high level of vaccinations were permitted to allow two visits per week per resident. They can have any number of people on their list of visitors.

Smith was able to bring along his son James on his visit.

All residents at the Rathgar home are now fully inoculated following their second doses last month.

Ray, who is 83 and had his own first dose of the vaccine two weeks ago, hopes “with a bit of luck” to be able to bring Carmel, who turns 80 this year, out in June to mark their 60th wedding anniversary and to celebrate with their four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“Things are looking a bit better. I know the Covid figures weren’t good over the weekend but I’d say when we get the over-70s vaccinated, things should improve,” he said.

Outdoor pods

Orwell Private has set up outdoor pods to facilitate more visits and if a visitor is vaccinated – or it is a critical or compassionate visit – the home will permit visits to resident bedrooms.

"We know that the vaccines are not 100 per cent so we still have to have every infection-prevention and control measure in place," said Diana Rose, director of care at the home.

“We will have to wait for the community to be fully vaccinated until we know what happens next because there is still a risk of a family member bringing an infection in.”

Theresa Kirk managed to see her sister-in-law Bernadette for a first in-person visit since September, visiting her at the Orwell Road nursing home with Theresa's husband Owen.

“It was just great. They have a lovely system in place where everything is about protection and infection prevention and control. They are doing things as well as they can,” she said.

Logistical challenges

Sarah Lennon, executive director of Sage Advocacy, a group representing older adults, said that not all nursing homes around the country have been permitting two visits per week to residents. She called on those care homes to communicate better any physical or logistical challenges around visits.

“Families have waited a long time and if you explain to people where there are logistical issues, people would appreciate that. In some of the correspondence we have seen, it has not been explained as that. That is where the upset for some people is coming up,” she said.

Diana Rose says the last year, the first of the pandemic, was about keeping residents safe from Covid-19 and this year should be different for nursing homes.

“This year should be learning how we can live with this safety,” she said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

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