THE chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland has said that staffing is the “single biggest issue” facing nursing homes as cases of Covid-19 surge in the community.
Corkman Tadhg Daly said that between 8% and 10% of nursing-home staff are on Covid-19-related leave.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr Daly said: “The biggest challenge, at the moment, is probably staff.
“In common with many sectors, probably somewhere between 8% and 10% of staff are out now, at the moment, as a result of contracting the virus themselves or, indeed, being a close contact.
“Staffing is probably the single-biggest issue and it’s putting a lot of pressure on existing staff then, who have been working so hard over the last two years.
“They’re exhausted now, at this stage, so it speaks a lot to their resilience.”
Mr Daly said that staffing is “the backbone of the service”, making it a particularly challenging time for everyone involved.
“In all healthcare settings, nursing homes included, staffing is obviously the backbone of the service, so it is challenging at the moment, there’s no doubt.
“When there’s such high [case] numbers in the community, there’s inevitability around it. We’ve seen all the way through really, whereby when there’s high numbers in the community, it has an impact, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
Mr Daly said that while nursing homes “are in a much better place this year” than they have been for quite some time, there is “still a lot of nervousness and apprehension around”.
“What we’re seeing is that residents aren’t as sick, so, definitely, the vaccine is proving very effective. There’s still a lot of nervousness and apprehension around, given the number of cases.
“When you look at 20,000 cases a day, people are still very vigilant. The nature of people who work in the sector is very resilient and you have to be positive for yourself, but also positive for the residents and their families, so people are trying to remain as positive and as upbeat as they can, but people are very tired at this stage, very, very tired,” he said.
Mr Daly said that it is also important that nursing homes facilitate people who are discharged from acute hospitals.
“This time of the year, obviously, the pressure on acute hospitals is there as well and if people’s acute phase of care is over and they need discharge to a nursing home, it’s important as well that the nursing home is in a position to facilitate.”
As of January 10, the HSE implemented new guidance, whereby occasional visitors to long-term residential care facilities (LTRCFs) should consider self-testing for Covid-19 before a visit, and that regular visitors should consider self-testing for Covid-19 twice weekly.
The LTRCF, however, is not required to provide or perform antigen tests and is not required to request evidence that an antigen test has been performed, and the inability of a visitor to perform self-testing for antigen should not result in a resident losing access to that visitor, if the visitor co-operates fully with all other requirements.
Mr Daly said that it is “still challenging, trying to strike the balance between ensuring the safety and welfare of everybody and trying to facilitate visiting”.
“It is challenging and where there are outbreaks, it can pose problems as well, but we’ll hopefully get back to relative normality over the next while.
“So, hopefully, when you look at what NPHET are saying, in terms of the modelling now in the next couple of weeks, hopefully there’ll be a peak and that the peak doesn’t have a hugely overtly negative impact on nursing homes,” he said.
“Staffing is probably the single biggest issue and it’s putting a lot of pressure on existing staff then who have been working so hard over the last two years.”