‘It will be brilliant’: Nursing home residents hail easing of visitor restrictions

‘A visit gives her a lift,’ says husband of elderly Co Kildare nursing home resident

PJ Cully heartily agrees with the State's deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn that there should be a "vaccine bonus" for those vaccinated against Covid-19 when it comes to easing restrictions.

Since Christmas, the 73-year-old from Sallins, Co Kildare, has had four compassionate visits with his wife, Ann, a resident with Alzheimer's disease at Craddock House Nursing Home near Naas.

PJ was “absolutely delighted” with the guidance from the National Public Emergency Health Team (Nphet) announced last night, which states that two compassionate visits a week, of more than one hour each, will be allowed for nursing homes where most residents and staff have been vaccinated.

“It will be brilliant,” he says. “Everything is a bonus because we went for so long without face-to-face visits. Two a week will definitely be a marked improvement.”

Ann received the second dose of her vaccine two weeks ago and PJ is still awaiting his first.

Prof Martin Cormican, the HSE clinical lead on infection control, told Nphet's media briefing that declining infections as a result of the vaccine rollout had "shifted the balance of risk" surrounding visits in nursing homes.

Where a high proportion of residents and staff have been vaccinated – about eight in every 10 – visitors will be permitted two visits per week. In other homes it will be limited to once every two weeks.

The changes will allow the couple to see each other more frequently, which is crucial for Ann.

“It is a bonus for both of us but my concern is Ann,” says PJ. “A visit gives her a lift. If it is a long, long time between visits, there is the possibility of her condition deteriorating far more rapidly, which is what happened when she caught Covid last year.”

Severe outbreak

Nursing homes want a phased plan showing how restrictions on visits will be further eased. Residents in care facilities have been among those who have suffered the most from the pandemic, locked away from families as many facilities have battled outbreaks.

Craddock House, an 89-bed long-term care facility that is now home to 61 residents, suffered one of the most severe Covid-19 outbreaks during the first wave of the pandemic.

“Prior to Covid, we had an open-door policy. We would have had [some] residents living here for 15 or 20 years, and you get to know the visitors very well,” says owner Bríd Gallagher.

After the third lockdown, from December to February – the “most drawn-out” to date – the first day of vaccinations was a “very welcome and celebrated occasion”, she says.

“The resumption of visiting will give residents a huge boost and will give them something to look forward to on a weekly basis,” says Gallagher, assistant director of nursing at the home.

Regular visits are important for the psychological and social needs of residents, she says.

Compassionate visit

Another resident of the home, Éamonn D’Arcy (88) moved in at Christmas to live with his wife of 64 years, Alice (87). Their daughter Susan dropped by on Thursday for a compassionate visit to mark her 60th birthday with her parents, both now vaccinated.

Éamonn believes visits should only be allowed for people who have been vaccinated or who test negative.

“Why would somebody be invited in with an uninvited guest?” he asks.

PJ Cully hopes that, with a further reduction in cases and more relaxing of restrictions, his wife will be able to leave the nursing home to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

“I would love if Ann was well enough to come and we could go somewhere to celebrate it with the family and with the children and grandchildren,” he says.

“I would hope for that but it may prove impossible. If not, we will hopefully be able to celebrate in [the nursing home].”