Grieving families seek inquiry into nursing homes and Covid-19

Published: May 23 2021 02:30 AM by Maeve Sheehan

Whistleblowers at two private nursing homes have made protected disclosures to the Minister for Health, claiming that residents were vaccinated in unsafe settings and that infection control failures contributed to the spread of the virus.

The protected disclosures are included in a detailed, 79-page letter from 25 families who lost relatives in nursing homes to Covid-19, calling on Stephen Donnelly to hold a public inquiry into the deaths.

The letter, sent on the families’ behalf by lawyers PA Duffy, also claims that dying residents were left without oxygen, or were refused transfer to hospital despite requests from their families or loved ones.

It is understood that the protected disclosures are from staff members in two private nursing homes and were made directly to the Minister of Health.

The letter says: “We have obtained statements from whistleblowers who worked in nursing homes during the pandemic.

“These statements identify basic failings including: staff not wearing adequate PPE and staff moving between Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 designated zones,” the letter said.

The whistleblowers provided “evidence” that staff and residents were moving between designated Covid-19 areas, the letter said, which “inevitably resulted in the accelerated spread of the virus within these homes”.

The letter also claimed to have evidence from one whistleblower that vaccines were administered to nursing home residents in “congregated settings”, presenting a “real risk to the lives of those attending”.

“We have obtained evidence from a staff member who was working in a nursing home in January 2021 who states that management were aware of at least one resident who was displaying symptoms of Covid-19 in the days prior to vaccination. A decision was made to proceed with vaccination of this resident, thereby endangering all those attending for a vaccination,” the letter said, adding that the details are contained in a protected disclosure to the minister.

The new protected disclosures are in addition to those made by a healthcare worker at the public nursing home, St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, last year.

Other allegations include:

-“Anecdotal evidence” from families of nursing home residents who died that their requests to transfer their loved ones to hospital were denied by management.

-“Numerous accounts from families about the substandard treatment of relatives who have tested positive for Covid-19 in nursing homes, including failures to provide oxygen, failure to medicate and failure to monitor hydration levels.”

-The letter says it is “unclear” whether nursing homes were acting on their own discretion or following Government guidance in not transferring residents to hospital. “In any event it is abundantly clear that many residents did not receive adequate treatment within nursing homes, and this has resulted in a disproportionate level of deaths.”

PA Duffy is acting for families in relation to 12 nursing homes in counties Dublin, Cork, Louth, Limerick, Monaghan, Roscommon and Offaly. Five of these nursing homes accounted for 98 Covid-related deaths of residents.

The legal firm’s letter to Mr Donnelly claims that the death rate was higher for nursing home residents not just because they were more susceptible to the virus, and claimed that “widespread systemic failures” contributed to the “harrowing statistics”.

The Government has already signalled its support for an inquiry. The Sunday Independent revealed last week that next year the Government plans to hold a public inquiry into its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lawyers for the 25 bereaved families favour a Commission of Investigation. However, they say they are open to the form a public inquiry would take, but it is “fundamental” that families should be facilitated to participate in an inquiry, including with publicly funded legal representation.

Care Champions, a support group for bereaved families of nursing home residents, said any public inquiry must include a review of the 2,051 deaths of residents and concerns around the quality of care.

“The appalling failures in nursing homes over the last 14 months must be addressed and never repeated,” a statement from the group said.

“Many surviving residents live in homes which failed to comply with national public health visiting guidance and who struggled to seek support from the State when care standards dropped or abuse or neglect occurred.”

It added: “A national inquiry can help forge a different path where accountability for residents and their families is central, where residents and their families’ voices and experiences are heard and justice is reached.”

Grieving families seek inquiry into nursing homes and Covid-19 was last modified: March 27th, 2023 by Conal McGarrity