Nursing home residents and their families are eagerly looking forward to the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine programme across long term residential care facilities, which they believe will help protect loved ones and the staff who care for them, Sage Advocacy has said.
According to Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health, the Government plans to have “vaccinated residents and all those working in our 580 nursing homes (70,000) with the first dose” by the end of January.
Sarah Lennon, Executive Director of Sage Advocacy, said the organisation welcomes the Minister’s commitment to vaccinating nursing home residents and the people who care for them, but it says nursing home residents and their families would welcome further clarification around the vaccination process and how that will impact everyday life for residents, including visitation.
Ms Lennon said: “We believe it is vitally important that nursing home residents have been given the opportunity to consent to receiving the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and that they will be among the first people in the country to receive the vaccine.
“It is essential that informed consent to the vaccine is given by residents and they have access to the information, time and support they need to make an informed choice. Residents who lack the decision-making capacity should have support and residents of congregated settings may also refuse to be vaccinated, so clarity is needed on all of these matters.
“We know current HSE guidelines state that no one should receive the vaccine if they are COVID-19 positive and the HSE also outlines that Covid-19 positive individuals must then wait until it has been 4 weeks since the symptoms of Covid-19 were first noticed or from when they tested positive before they can receive the vaccine. Nursing home residents and their families need to know what the vaccination process will be for other residents if there are positive Covid-19 cases in a long term residential care facility.”
Ms Lennon said the organisation, which is a support and advocacy service for vulnerable adults, older people and healthcare patients, is acutely aware from its work of the latest increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases in nursing homes and the impact that this is having on residents, staff and families.
Ms Lennon added: “We appreciate that because of the significant surge of Covid-19 in our communities there is a crucial role for everyone to play in reducing the spread of the virus. The first priority must always be to safeguard the health and wellbeing of both residents and the staff who care for them but there must also be a balancing of the other risks. We know from our work how vitally important visits are to the wellbeing and safeguarding of both residents and their families.
“Nursing home residents and their families have endured long periods of physical separation during Covid-19 and members of our Nursing Home Residents – Family Forum have shared heart breaking accounts of the impact this has had on them. We know that when older or vulnerable people are physically separated from their loved ones it has a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
“Currently during Level 5 HSE guidance outlines that up to one visit every two weeks by one person should be facilitated by long term residential care facilities on compassionate grounds and window visiting - where a person stands outside and speaks to another individual at a safe distance through an open window or by telephone - is safe at all Levels and during outbreaks. It is also important to remember that travel exemptions are permitted at Level 5 for vital family reasons which includes nursing home visits.”