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Why did COVID-19 hit Irish nursing home residents so badly?

By Cian Molloy - 31 May, 2020

"It is distressing that more than half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing care facilities," said Bishop Michael Router, chairman of the Episcopal Council for Healthcare.

We need to learn why so many Irish nursing home residents have died in the COVID-19 pandemic, say Ireland’s bishops.

In a statement issued by the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Episcopal Conference, the bishops acknowledge that “our elderly parents, grandparents and relatives are the most vulnerable during this pandemic”. According to a Central Statistics Office (CSO) report issued this week, those aged over 65 account for 92 per cent of confirmed deaths.

The  council, which is chaired by Bishop Michael Router, auxiliary in Armagh, noted that cocooning “appears to have been an effective strategy in suppressing the virus”, before stating: “It is distressing, however, that more than half of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing care facilities. For various reasons, COVID-19 has had its most damaging impact among the residents in such settings.”

According to the Department of Health, 62 per cent of those who died because of the new coronavirus were care home residents. Only Canada has a higher proportion, with 82 per cent of COVID-19 deaths there being among care home residents. The country with the third highest proportion of COVID-19 deaths among care home resident deaths is France, where the figure is 51 per cent, followed by Sweden at 49 per cent, and Austria and the United States at 41 per cent.

“We would welcome appropriate inquiries into the reasons why nursing care facilities were so badly affected,” said Bishop Router. “Lessons must be learned. More and more people will be availing of nursing care in the years ahead. Nursing homes should be prioritised by the State to ensure that they have the personnel and equipment necessary to deal with such crisis situations as soon as they arise.

“Every resident is someone’s mother, father, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or friend. They have played their part over many decades in contributing to their communities and to the economy. The lives of those who live in such facilities should be valued, respected, and enhanced.”

Bishop Router repeated the axiom of our faith that human life is sacred and precious from the child in the womb to the elderly person in care. He said: “We must do all that we can to protect life and to improve the quality of life for those who are particularly vulnerable. At this time, the coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity for society to reflect on where it stands in relation to the elderly and to others who are most vulnerable among us.

“The lessons learned will enable us to build a culture of life and care where everyone is supported and all are entitled to life-protecting services and facilities.”

The Council for Healthcare used the statement as an opportunity to pay tribute to those working on the frontline in dealing with this new disease.

Acknowledging the tremendous work of our doctors, nurses, administrators, chaplains and ancillary staff in healthcare facilities across the country, the council said: “Their tireless efforts have helped to curb the spread of COVID-19 and saved the lives of many people. Their dedication has been a source of inspiration and hope for all of us at this difficult time. We thank them sincerely and assure them of continuing support.”

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