I heard an alarming report on the radio yesterday about the deaths over the last two weeks of six vulnerable elderly people in Nazareth House, a private nursing home at Fahan, near Buncrana, Co Donegal. The cause of death was influenza. Eleven of the remaining 39 residents were still being treated for symptoms yesterday and doctors remained concerned about a small number because of their frailty. The last person died on Monday. The home is run by The Sisters of Nazareth, an order of nuns. It transpires the HSE was not informed of this tragedy until Sunday.
So we have a private nursing home with severely compromised people dying in droves and nothing was done until last-minute. HSE infection control nurses have since been transferred to the home and inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority have also arrived.
Influenza is a debilitating and unrelenting illness. People like to say they have flu sometimes when they have a heavy cold– itself an unpleasant experience; but the two are nothing alike. I’ve had flu once in my entire life, indeed Gamma and I contracted it at the same time and even though it was over twenty years ago I have never forgotten how ill it made me. How weak I was, how delirious and fevered. I was a robust child, yet it floored me with the greatest of ease. Gamma, being elderly, took a significetly longer time to recover.
I have not doubt the Sisters are devastated over the deaths of their charges, but it is inconceivable to me that the HSE was not called in immediately when vulnerable people were starting to suffer from this insidious disease. Quarantine, medical expertise, all might have helped stall this rampant virus and saved some lives. More troubling we also learn that “It also emerged yesterday that a new resident was admitted to the home on Saturday and that the remains of one of the residents, who died of flu, was reposed at home on Thursday.”
How logical is it that a nursing home admit a patient when all around them their charges are sick and dying from a virus?
I’m not blaming the nuns, this is a tragedy. But vulnerable elderly people deserve to be protected at their end of days. The HSE needs to be involved with private nursing homes, they must be. There needs to be a code of practice in place, open, understandable and more importantly implemented to the letter.
I feel fierce sorry for those who died and those who are ill and for the families of these elderly victims. I hope lessons are learned and I really hope this never happens again.