The Irish public rightly deserves credit for the way they’re meeting the challenge to suppress this present phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, with good leadership provided by the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
Frontline workers in the public and private sector have also continued to contribute hugely to the successful outcome, but this has come at a cost. Sadly, eight workers in the healthcare setting paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives with more than 8,000 other healthcare workers falling victim to the virus. This is particularly sad considering that many of the workers in the private care sector have very poor pay and working conditions – a situation that requires urgent attention.
Our success in suppressing the virus should not blind us to the urgent need to re-evaluate the over reliance by the State on a ‘one size fits all’ model of care for the elderly through the private and public nursing home models.
NURSING HOME RESIDENTS
At the time of writing, 991 of nursing home residents died of the virus – representing 56% of the overall total deaths, while another 2,000 patients picked up the infection. Similar models of nursing care operating outside of Ireland also had high death rates among residents. When the pandemic struck no other options of care for the elderly was available for nursing home residents and it should have been anticipated that this virus would spread rapidly in the nursing homes settings.
This spread was facilitated by the communal settings in the nursing homes where large numbers of vulnerable residents congregate together, with many of them having no awareness of social distancing and the etiquette around hygiene. Another factor was that there was a large cohort of asymptomatic residents and an acute lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The State has gone down the road over many years of hiving off the care of the elderly to the private operators whose raison d’etre is profit. This has to change.
Our elderly citizens deserve better. Urgent planning is now required to re-configure a system of care for the elderly and vulnerable to avoid a recurrence. Ireland’s aging population is increasing. People are living longer.
The over 65s of the population number 629,000 – four percent of whom are in nursing homes and this is forecast to rise to 1.6 million by 2050. The over 80s are also set to rise more dramatically increasing from 147,000 to 549,000. Not all will require residential care, but many will.
PROPOSALS FOR CHANGE
The GSRMA, in collaboration with groups involved in the advocacy for the elderly, must combine their efforts to ensure change takes place including:
- Improved home care packages, to ensure elderly can stay longer in their own home.
- A move away from the large nursing home model to smaller homes to ensure the care of the elderly remains paramount.
- Integration of smaller units into communal setting, to avoid social isolation.
The above proposals will require a huge financial outlay by the Government – it is the only option available if we are to treat our elderly with the dignity they deserve in their final years.
The early well-intentioned messaging on the numbers and the use of the term ‘elderly with underlying conditions’ did not, in my estimation, do justice to those who passed away. So, we were not in this pandemic together as residents in the nursing homes were far more likely to have a poorer outcome if they contracted the virus.
Let me conclude by offering my sympathy to any reader who suffered a family bereavement during this virus.
Joe Dirwan, Central Committee and Monaghan Branch