HSE told to correct list of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes

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Clodagh Killeen was perplexed to hear that her Galway nursing home featured on a leaked Health Service Executive list of centres that lost residents to Covid-19. Castleturvin Nursing home, where she is director of nursing, was at the bottom of the list, with one resident listed as having died. Except, Castleturvin had not reported any deaths.

The only case of Covid-19 that did come into the nursing home had been successfully contained: the resident had long recovered, the virus had not spread, and no one died a virus-related death. She spent the morning  phoning families and reassuring residents that no, she hadn’t misinformed them about Covid-19, what they were hearing on the airwaves was not correct.

“The residents read the papers, they are online and very aware of what’s going on. It’s really very concerning,” Ms Killeen said.

“And we would be very transparent; we’re very transparent with the families, we’re very transparent to the residents, and, of course, with Hiqa and public health.” 

Ms Killeen failed to get to the bottom of how a Covid-19 death came to be attributed to Castleturvin. There had been a non-Covid death in that time, but the resident had tested negative. “If the HSE are reporting incorrect figures, what other figures are incorrect?” she asked.

In Galway city, a similar scene played out. Martin Breen, owner of St Mary’s Residential Care Centre, was investigating how his nursing home was listed as having one Covid-19 death where there were none.

“It is distressing for staff, residents, our families and our local community because the perception is we might have been lying and that is not the case,” he said. “On a broader level it brings into question the accuracy of the figures that are broadcast publicly every day, how they are collated and gathered together.”

Elmhurst Nursing Home in Dublin was on the HSE list as having two Covid-19 related deaths. “We have had no Covid-19 deaths, we haven’t had a single case of Covid-19 in the nursing home,” said Stephen Eustace, chief executive of Highfield Healthcare, which owns Elmhurst. He wants the HSE to correct the record to reassure families.

“We’ve kept the families appraised, we had our mass testing in April, staff and residents all came back negative. So, I don’t know where these figures came from.”

Both Galway nursing homes have consulted solicitors about correcting the error; Elmhurst has not.

Disputed and inaccurate as the figures are, the leaking of the Health Service Executive list of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes to The Irish Times has put into the public domain information that has long been sought by politicians, families and patient advocates.

The HSE was asked again at an Oireachtas meeting of the Covid-19 Committee last week, which devoted its entire session to homes. As Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty later pointed out, the leaked list was published in The Irish Times the day after the committee was told the information was unavailable.

The accuracy of the leaked information is now under question.

Yesterday, Nursing Homes Ireland said it had received 29 phonecalls from nursing homes stating the published figures were incorrect for their home.

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd says there are serious questions as to how it was compiled. He said the HSE must now publish the information in the interests of “full transparency and accountability”. 

According to the leaked figures, the homes with the highest Covid-19 deaths are Ryevale, one of Ireland’s most successful family owned nursing home enterprises, and Tara Winthrop, which turned €550,000 profit in 2018 and was acquired last year by Grace Healthcare which has Taiwanese and Australian investors.

In a statement, Ryevale spoke of the devastation of the deaths released last week. It is understood to be disputing the figures, as is Tara Winthrop. The death toll is understood to be 18 confirmed Covid-19 deaths and five suspect, and not the reported HSE figure of 29.

The HSE said that data it collects represents a “snapshot in time”.

Public nursing homes were also badly hit: St Mary’s in the Phoenix Park, where 25 residents died; Dealgan in Louth, where 22 residents died; and in The Rock in Donegal, where half of the nursing home’s population of 19 died of Covid-19-related deaths. A review of the State’s response to Covid-19 in long-stay care settings, published last Tuesday, found that 27pc of private, public and voluntary nursing homes were not fully compliant with regulations.

But at the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 that same day, Hiqa disclosed that on March 30 it submitted a list of 212 nursing homes deemed to be at risk. Hiqa submitted further documents, submitted to the Committee last Friday that effectively warned of the potential for widespread infection in nursing homes.

The names were not divulged to the committee but Hiqa did reveal that the vast majority of the nursing homes are private – although this may just reflect the fact that 80pc of nursing homes are private. Each had breached compliance with regulations, in a way that could “potentially challenge” a nursing home to safely manage residents with Covid-19. Twenty-seven companies ran 89 of the homes on the list of 212; 109 were small homes with fewer than 40 beds registered as limited companies.

The private nursing home operators are contracted by the State for close to €1bn to care for older people. They were represented by effective lobby group Nursing Homes Ireland at the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee hearing last week. Tadgh Daly, its chief executive, told the committee the private operators had been “isolated”, and a string of letters released by the department proved his efforts to have the sector’s voice heard.

In a swipe at the profits to be made, however, Fergus O’Dowd claimed “very wealthy” nursing home operators were complaining that the State wasn’t doing enough for them when they had “a lot of money” to pay for their own testing, PPE and infection controls.

There is no dispute that more than 900 residents of nursing homes died of Covid-19 – accounting for more than half of deaths – and it is their families who are counting the cost.

Families called for an investigation into the deaths of residents at Dealgan. A staff member at St Mary’s Nursing Home in the Phoenix Park has made a protected disclosure. Mr Doherty has called for an inquiry into The Rock. 

“There are a lot of lists circulating, Hiqa’s list of Covid-19 high-risk operators, the HSEs list of the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes. The Hiqa list is still a secret, the accuracy of the HSE report is questioned,” said Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients’ Association, which has called for a public inquiry. “Nothing has been disclosed to residents, families or nursing home operators. The HSE has a duty to produce an accurate record of these deaths and explain inaccuracies.”

In an unexpected intervention yesterday, Bishop Michael Router joined calls for an inquiry. “We would welcome appropriate inquiries into the reasons why nursing care facilities were so badly affected.”

Source: Irish News