Nursing home is shut over safety fears


THE STATE’S health standards watchdog has secured an interim court order to close a nursing home over fears the lives of its 12 residents were at risk.

Inspectors at the Health Information and Quality Authority went to court on Thursday after the “sudden, unagreed and unplanned” discharge and transfer of several residents at Avondale Nursing Home in Callan, Co Kilkenny.

They also raised concerns about fire safety, care practices, governance and a “persistent failure to co-operate” with inspectors.

Documents filed with Carlow District Court show one vulnerable resident with an acquired brain injury was brought to his family’s home with four suitcases of belongings by nursing home owner Miriam Holmes on July 10th. His family were told without any prior warning that he was being discharged.

Another vulnerable resident was told on July 20th he was being transferred to another nursing home in Clonmel on July 22nd because of building works at the home. The resident’s family were later told his transfer would take place a day earlier, on July 21st.

Chief inspector of the authority Tracey Cooper told the court she had been “alarmed” by the “sudden and unplanned discharge” of vulnerable residents. She said they were “totally unjustified and unnecessary” and created “a risk to the life or serious risk to the health” of residents and reflected the “poor judgment” of the home owner.

The authority, which is seeking the cancellation of the registration of the nursing home, received several tip-offs from concerned staff at the home. The tip-offs provoked inspections in March, April, May and July this year, which highlighted issues of concern.

Trade union Siptu said five of its members were constructively dismissed by the nursing home in 2009 when they raised concerns about the welfare of residents. Two won cases at the Employment Appeals Tribunal last month.

In March inspectors criticised a practice at the home of waking up residents as early as 5am for showers and to dress pressure wounds. On at least one occasion an inspector discovered a fully clothed resident sleeping in bed, and noted there was “no adequate rationale” for this routine. This practice was stopped following the inspection.

Inspectors also criticised the practice of making some residents sleep in all-in-one sleeping suits, which zipped up from the back to restrict their movement. The home said the suits were required to keep incontinence pads in place. But inspectors said the home had given no consideration to other treatments.

A 20-point action plan drawn up by the authority, which outlined changes required of the home, was never implemented, according to court documents.

Nursing home owner Ms Holmes was invited to attend a meeting at the authority on June 17th. A letter from the home to the authority said Ms Holmes was on annual leave of not more than 28 days, and an acting person in charge was in place.

After tip-offs about the unplanned discharge of patients, the authority wrote to the nursing home this week to express its concerns about residents’ safety.

“You appear to be undertaking some form of closure and transfer of residents, which appears to be taking place in an unplanned, unco-ordinated and in our view very unsafe manner,” wrote Tony Christie, regional operations manager at the authority.

Under the Health Act 2007, six months’ notice should be given to the authority ahead of any closure.

This was not the first time the nursing home has been in the news. In 2005 an 81-year-old MRSA sufferer died just weeks after he suffered a severe burn from a radiator in the nursing home. Henry Pollard, of Rathvilly, Co Carlow, had been strapped into a chair and left beside the radiator while under sedation, a subsequent inquest was told.

Dr Myra Cullinane, the Cork coroner, recorded a verdict of death by natural causes but recommended that confused and disabled patients should not be left next to an unguarded radiator.

In the past two years the authority has obtained court orders to close five nursing homes over fears for the safety of residents. Minister for Health James Reilly said he commended the authority’s efforts to ensure vulnerable older citizens are looked after in a safe environment.