Nursing homes were ‘down pecking order’ says chief of Cork's St Luke's

Nursing homes were ‘down pecking order’ says chief of Cork's St Luke's

A Cork nursing home chief has said that there were gaps in support for nursing homes in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tony O’Brien, CEO of St Luke’s Charity and Home, spoke after a special Oireachtas Covid-19 committee met yesterday to discuss the management of the virus outbreak in nursing homes.

At the meeting, the head of Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), Tadhg Daly, accused Government authorities of leaving the nursing home sector and its residents “isolated” at the outset of the outbreak and said the “dismay will live forever with us”.

Mr Daly said nursing homes have faced four key challenges: Insufficient testing of residents and staff; a mass shortfall of personal protective equipment (PPE); aggressive recruitment of nursing home staff, and discharges from acute hospitals to nursing homes without testing.

Mr O’Brien told The Echo that St Luke’s Home had faced significant challenges at the beginning of the outbreak, particularly around securing PPE and on testing.

Tony O'Brien, CEO, St Luke's Charity and Home. Pic; Larry Cummins. 
Tony O'Brien, CEO, St Luke's Charity and Home. Pic; Larry Cummins. 

St Luke’s Home is a not-for-profit organisation, which operates at a significant loss, and is supported by the charity through fundraising to “fill some sort of the gap”.

It employs 220 staff and has 128 beds available for residents.

Mr O’Brien said there was no doubt that there were significant PPE supply issues at the beginning of the outbreak.

“Organisations like ourselves were down in the pecking order,” he said.

Last month, St Luke’s launched a fundraising appeal to help it to purchase masks for staff after new guidance was introduced which meant that masks needed to be worn by healthcare workers, regardless of whether or not the people in their care had Covid-19.

A lack of global supply meant that the market price of masks increased from around 7c to €2.50 per mask, although Mr O’Brien said that cost increases have now settled.

St Luke’s needs to purchase around 10,000 masks weekly to meet its needs.

“We were and remain Covid-19-free, but it’s a challenge every day,” said Mr O’Brien. “We upskilled our own nurses to allow us to swab [for Covid-19] straight away. I’m sure others have done so too.”

Mr O’Brien said March and April were “tension-filled” and that while some of the unease is dissipating, concerns and challenges remain.

The nursing home is beginning to look at how it will operate in the months ahead, but Mr O’Brien says it needs national guidance before it can create policies around taking in new admissions and allowing visitors to return.

“My colleagues are superb, both clinical and non-clinical, and the management team meet every day to discuss plans,” he said.

Questions also remain about what the education centre at St Luke’s might look like when it reopens.

“Everyone is still completely aware of the threat [of Covid-19] and are making sure they remain vigilant,” said Mr O’Brien. “We need to discuss where the industry is going, and where it should be going.”

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