Families and relatives with loved ones living in long term care facilities, including nursing homes, have told Sage Advocacy that they are “dreading Christmas without visits”.
Members of Sage Advocacy’s Nursing Home Residents - Family Forum – have told the national charity, which provides a support and advocacy service for vulnerable adults, older people and healthcare patients, that they are “anxiously waiting” to hear how they may be able to spend time with their loved ones at Christmas.
Currently at Framework Levels 3,4 and 5, visiting is suspended aside from critical and compassionate circumstances for in-door visiting at nursing homes and long term care facilities.
However guidelines from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) state that outdoor and window visiting - where a person stands outside and speaks to a person at a safe distance through an open window or by telephone - is safe at any Framework Level and during outbreaks.
Sarah Lennon, Executive Director, Sage Advocacy, said reports that the Government is considering asking the public to limit their close contacts to family only over the Christmas period has sparked fresh fears for families with loved ones in nursing homes.
Ms Lennon said: “Nursing home residents have not been able to hug or hold their wives, husbands and families for many months now. We firmly believe that the first priority is to keep people who live in nursing homes and their carers safe and well, because we understand too well the devastation that occurs when this virus gets among the nursing home population.
“But families repeatedly tell us on a daily basis that they do not want to see their loved ones “locked away” in nursing homes. They do not believe that this is the answer to the threat that Covid-19 poses.”
Sage Advocacy has urged the Government to carefully consider the impact that any plans they are drawing up for Christmas could have on nursing home residents and their families.
Ms Lennon said: “Many families see Christmas as an opportunity to reunite at home and many people who live in long term care facilities will temporarily leave them to spend Christmas with their families at their homes across the country for a period of time.
“The Government needs to provide guidance on whether this arrangement will be facilitated this year because if residents do leave their nursing homes to spend Christmas with their families then when they return that would result in multiple households essentially mixing together.”
Sage Advocacy is urging the Government to ensure that nursing home residents and families are not only considered as part of any proposed Christmas plan, but that they are at the forefront of it.
Ms Lennon said: “There is a generation of people who now live in nursing homes who are a fundamental part of their family’s Christmas – without them families face a heart breaking Christmas so the Government and the nursing home sector need to develop plans to ensure that the rights of nursing home residents to see their loved ones when and wherever they choose is respected, particularly at Christmas.
“The threat of Covid-19 is not the only risk to the health of nursing home residents, loneliness is too.
“There are a number of examples where other countries have taken a different approach than is currently the case in Ireland, for example, in the UK some nursing homes have constructed external visitor pods and the UK Government is also due to roll out a pilot programme in November where family members of residents in 20 care homes will be tested for Covid-19 before visiting their loved ones.
In the US some nursing home operators have designated one family member or relative as an “essential worker” and provided training/ PPE to enable them to regularly visit and help provide care to their loved one.
We believe innovative projects could also be trialled in Ireland to pave the way to enabling nursing home residents to be reunited with their loved ones”.