'It is a scary time' - the nursing homes battling coronavirus clusters

South Dublin home has seven infected residents and 20-plus staff sick or in self-isolation

The sharp rise in cluster outbreaks has caused alarm in nursing homes which have managed to avoid any coronavirus infections. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

The sharp rise in cluster outbreaks has caused alarm in nursing homes which have managed to avoid any coronavirus infections. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

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Two Dublin nursing homes battling clusters of coronavirus infections have called for the additional staff, protective equipment and resources promised to the sector to stem the outbreaks.

The nursing homes, which have asked not to be identified in order to protect residents and staff, are among the 57 residential-care homes with outbreaks, a sixfold increase in just over a week.

One of the homes, on the south side of Dublin, has seven residents and a number of staff who have tested positive for Covid-19. The facility is down more than 20 staff who are on sick leave or self-isolating because of their exposure to the virus and is struggling to find replacement staff.

The outbreak has resulted in senior managers who would not typically be working on the floor of the nursing home now doing so to fill the gaps left in staffing.

A senior manager at the nursing home said that while the Health Service Executive had provided additional personal protective equipment (PPE), the real requirement was for additional staff.

All staff currently in self-isolation and on sick leave were being checked on every day and the nursing home was “charting for their planned return to work”, a spokesman said.

Healthcare demands

“There is a relatively small pool of suitable people available considering the demand being imposed nationally by the acute system, public and community nursing facilities and finally the private nursing homes, so we are being realistic in our expectations as to what the system will be able to provide in real terms,” the manager said in a statement released to The Irish Times.

The other nursing home, in north Dublin, has been “battling” to contain the spread of the virus since last month, a spokesman for the facility said.

He declined to disclose the number of Covid-19-infected residents or staff at the facility or the number who are self-isolating because of exposure. He said the HSE had instructed the home that only State health officials were allowed to release details of case numbers publicly.

“What would greatly help is the immediate supply of PPE and extra resources which the Government spoke about,” said the spokesman.

The outbreak in nursing homes is concentrated in the east of the country which has 41 of the 57 Covid-19 clusters, followed by seven in the west and three in the midwest.

Infection fears

The sharp increase in the number of outbreaks has caused alarm in nursing homes which have managed to avoid any coronavirus infections.

“I am terrified because every day you get up, the number of clusters is increasing,” said Lorraine (not real name) who manages a nursing home in the midlands with up to 50 residents and 40 staff.

The manager, who did not want her nursing home identified out of concern for her residents and staff, said they received just four items of PPE in one delivery from the HSE last week, though they have received sufficient equipment since then to cope with an outbreak.

“It is a massive, massive worry. On the outside you are portraying it like everything is okay and trying to put a brave face on it, but underneath you are stressed out. You are like the swan – you are graceful on top and underneath you are going mental,” she said.

“It is just the unknown. We don’t know what is going to happen. Will we be able to open the doors before December? It is a scary time.”

Lorraine said that the home has had to switch off RTÉ’s Six One News in the home’s day room – a daily watching ritual for many of her residents – and removed copies of a daily newspaper one day because they had news stories about the coronavirus pandemic affecting nursing homes and older people.

“They love the six o’clock news – that is their thing and we have it on – but it is obviously doom and gloom and if we feel it is getting a bit dramatic, we do turn it off.”