Covid-19 focus now on nursing facilities for elderly people
With around half of all deaths from Covid-19 associated with nursing homes, the focus in managing the crisis has very much turned towards this sector.
Between public and private healthcare units, there are 25 facilities dedicated to providing long-term nursing care for elderly people in Donegal. Together they can cater for around 575 patients.
Many of these patients are extremely vulnerable to the most serious effects of Covid-19 because of their age and frail health.
It has therefore been announced that a co-ordinated national Covid-19 testing programme will take place across nursing homes and other residential healthcare settings.
A big challenge since the crisis began is how to protect these most vulnerable patients as well as the healthcare workers who care for them.
The HSE has already offered financial support and assistance with personal protection equipment (PPE) to private care facilities with a mixed reaction to whether this is adequate. But the growing number of patients contracting and sadly dying from Covid-19 in public and private nursing units has led to the need for a more immediate proactive response.
It is on that basis and in keeping with the recommendations from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) that testing of nursing home patients and healthcare workers is being carried out.
Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health Dr Tony Holohan said: “We remain concerned about the prevalence of COVID-19 in nursing homes and residential care settings.
“The National Public Health Emergency Team is monitoring developments in these facilities and continues to advance supports and actions where needed.
“From the beginning, we have been aware that vulnerable groups, including the elderly, are at greater risk from this virus. These groups will continue to be our priority.”
Among the concerns regarding nursing units for the elderly is the lack of isolation facilities. In the last week, all patients from the HSE-run Rock Community Nursing Unit in Ballyshannon were relocated.
They were taken over the Easter weekend to St Joseph’s Community Hospital in Stranorlar, around 50km away.
Needless to say, this is an anxious time for patients and their families.
A family member close to a patient at the Rock said: “It is a worrying time but I believe it is the right decision.
“They are going to a lovely new unit in St Joseph's.”
Another person who has a relative with dementia in long-term nursing care in a local hospital said: “It is very hard because all you can do is go to the window. He doesn't understand why we won't come in. It is very distressing for him and for us.
“I'm not sure if it is the right thing to go and see him at all because it is upsetting him so much. But at least we can see that he is well. The nurses are amazing in the way they are going the extra mile to look out for the patients when their families can't visit.”
A new agreement between the HSE and private nursing homes will see public sector staff being available to private units who become understaffed.
The HSE has stressed that the Area Crisis Management Team for Donegal is working closely with community hospitals and nursing homes.
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