Chief executive of Cork nursing home appeals for more support from HSE 

Chief executive of Cork nursing home appeals for more support from HSE 
Tony O'Brien CEO st Luke's Charity & Home and Bishop Paul Colton President St Luke's Charity & Home

THE chief executive of a Cork nursing home has said more support is needed to access personal protective equipment.

Tony O’Brien, who is chief executive at St Luke’s Charity and Home in Cork, said it was facing significant challenges in sourcing masks for the residential care centre.

St Luke’s Home employs 220 staff and has 128 beds available for residents.

New guidance introduced in recent weeks means that masks must now be worn by all healthcare workers caring for residents, regardless of whether or not the patient may have Covid-19.

Mr O’Brien said this means they must source 10,000 masks weekly to meet the needs of the centre.

However, accessing supplies has not been straightforward, and Mr O’Brien said they have had to try to go to new suppliers on the market themselves to purchase masks.

“PPE is a challenge — when it boils down to it masks [supply] are an issue worldwide. There is a significant lack of supply,” Mr O’Brien explained.

This lack of supply has had an impact on prices, and Mr O’Brien says the market price of masks varies from 80c to €2 or €3 per mask.

Last week, St Luke’s Charity and Home paid €9,500 for a week’s supply of masks.

Mr O’Brien said while he didn’t want to criticise anyone, nursing homes like St Luke’s “need a fair shot at accessing PPE”.

“We need the support of the HSE, we are dealing with dramatic circumstances,” he said.

He acknowledged that there were some “exceptional and superb” people in the HSE who were “doing the best they can”, but said more help is needed.

St Luke’s is trying to fundraise to help meet the costs of these masks.

The residential centre is operated by a charity and Mr O’Brien says it does so “at a significant loss” each year, but usually holds regular fundraisers to fill this gap.

However, like many other facilities, it has had to review and cancel some of these events and look at new ways to raise funds.

Over the past week it has held a “cocooning challenge” where residents have sought sponsorship to complete laps of the garden on the grounds.

While the challenge was initially intended to help raise funds for activities and services at St Luke’s Home, the funds raised from this event are being re-diverted to help purchase PPE.

The facility has also publicly appealed for help in securing masks and has benefited from a number of significant donations of masks and PPE in recent weeks.

After the new guidance was introduced around when masks should be worn, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross Paul Colton, who chairs the board of directors at St Luke’s, had reached out on social media for help in sourcing masks.

The first week’s supply of masks was quickly secured from two donations from the Lord Mayor of Cork, Dr John Sheehan, and Mark Whitaker, CEO of Johnson and Perrott Motor Group.

“The support we have received has been amazing. It has been uplifting to see,” said Mr O’Brien.

St. Luke's Home, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
St. Luke's Home, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

While there have not been any cases of Covid-19 identified at St Luke’s, Mr O’Brien acknowledged that they were “dealing with an enemy by stealth” and said they were engaging in a number of efforts to help support staff and residents during the outbreak.

The centre is the first in the country to pilot a new smartphone app to help staff to self-monitor for Covid-19 and to also stay up to date with the latest developments in this area.

Mr O’Brien said the idea for the app initially came from a discussion with their director of nursing, Orla Coleman around how the information on Covid-19 could be pulled together. 

They subsequently reached out to company Zendra Health, which is run by Ms Coleman’s brothers, Thomas and David Coleman.

Zendra Health developed and rolled out a “companion app” for healthcare workers at St Luke’s in just five days.

The app allows people to self-screen themselves for Covid-19 daily, and has notification reminders which sent are sent to the staff’s phone.

“We currently undertake temperature checks twice daily so it compliments what we are doing,” said Mr O’Brien.

The app also collates information on the latest practices, has an area to help staff look after their wellbeing, and has instant call, email and sms functions to facilitate rapid response protocols.

Thomas Coleman, co-founder of Zendra Health said that the feedback has been extremely positive.

“The pilot is underway in St Luke’s and we are engaging with several other nursing homes in Ireland and the UK on the app,” he said.

Mr O’Brien acknowledged that if a case of Covid-19 is identified at St Luke’s it will have “an impact for everyone.”

For now their focus is on arming staff with the knowledge, education and tools to help to deal with “the enemy” to keep all their safe.

To donate to the cocooning challenge log on to: https://tinyurl.com/y8zp9kd3

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