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Fergus O’Dowd TD / ‘Something rotten at heart of nursing home inspections’

Fergus O'Dowd, Dail Eireann
Fergus O'Dowd TD and a view of Dáil Éireann. Photo Credit: Oireachtas Flickr.

Nursing home residents are “extremely vulnerable” during these winter months, says Fergus O’Dowd TD, who says “something is rotten at the heart” of the HIQA inspection system.

O’Dowd, who has reiterated calls for a full inquiry to be held into the deaths of 23 residents of the Dealgan House nursing home in Dundalk, was critical of the inspection system after news emerged this week of six Covid-19 related deaths at the Oaklands nursing home in Listowel, county Kerry.

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All but one of the 24 residents at Oaklands returned a positive Covid-19 test and the HSE took over operation of the home, as the RCSI Hospital Group did at Dealgan House in the Spring of this year.

“There must be an inquiry into Dealgan nursing home,” the Drogheda-based TD said. “There are two nursing homes where events have given cause for serious concern during this awful pandemic, the latest being in Listowel and the first being the Dealgan home,” he said on Thursday, during a meeting of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response.

“The latter is the only nursing home where there were practically no staff in place because most were out sick or had left. Awful things happened there and the families need the truth about it. The truth must be found for them and I believe the Minister of State (Mary Butler TD) is committed to finding it.

“What happened is entirely unacceptable. We have talked about it before and we will talk about it again. I urge the Minister of State, if she can, to tell us what she is going to do about it. It is three weeks since we had the meeting about it and the families want an investigation into what happened.

Speaking about the situation in Listowel, Deputy O’Dowd said the last inspection of the facility listed on the website was in June  of this year. “The inspection found there was no no person in charge, no social distancing, no clinical oversight and the food and nutrition were not adequate.

“There was no appropriate and proper medical management. The staff were wearing no surgical masks. There was no management system in place to provide safe, appropriate and constant care, and there was poor and unacceptable infection control,” he said.

Deputy O’Dowd said that despite Oaklands being given until July 30 to comply, the Chief Inspector was not satisfied recommendations were met. “But HIQA waited until today to go to court to take over that nursing home and six deaths occurred there. Something is rotten at the heart of this system that allowed that to continue. It is not for me to lay the blame but to explain the facts as I read them.

“HIQA does a fantastic job and I will not take from anybody working there, but it is entirely unacceptable that this level of abuse of patients was allowed to continue for so long.”

He continued: “The country has come a long way and we are now at a crossroads. The danger is that the virus is on the rise again. Our nursing home residents are extremely vulnerable in the short, dark, dank days and long nights we are facing into now. I urge absolute vigilance at this time of serious risk for people.

“In particular, there must be more action and greater commitment from HIQA in respect of nursing homes.

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In October, families of residents who died in Dealgan House said they were “shocked and saddened” by the findings published in the latest HIQA inspection report for the nursing home.

The report cited that there was noncompliance with regulations in several critical areas such as staffing, infection control, risk management, health care and governance and management.

The HIQA report also stated that inspectors on the two-day inspection were not assured that residents were being monitored twice daily in order to detect signs and symptoms of potential Covid-19 infections early.

It also said that no representative from the provider was made available in Dealgan House to provide support and leadership for staff and to ensure that there was appropriate oversight of the care and services provided to residents.

A spokesperson for bereaved families said in a statement on October 23: “We are acutely aware of the ongoing situation of Covid-19 outbreaks in nursing homes and we believe that by examining what happened at Dealgan House Nursing Home, the wider lessons that are so badly needed by the health authorities can be learned and implemented in full to avert a similar tragedy ever happening again.”

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