The isolation and loneliness felt by many elderly in care homes when they cannot see their families was well put by one elderly woman who said, “Did I ever think I’d be all alone in this world at 92 years”.
Raising the issue with the Taoiseach in the Dáil this week, I asked if there was more we could do to facilitate restricted family visits while adhering to public health guidelines from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC).
Families that I have spoken with are heartbroken at the thought of not being able to see their loved ones during COVID-19 restrictions. They are willing to do everything that needs to be done just to find a way of having human contact.
These families understand the absolute necessity for safety and acknowledge the challenging job care home owners and staff have in keeping residents safe. They want to work with care homes and public health to find innovative ways to have contact with their elderly relatives to ensure their mental-health, wellbeing and physical health is protected.
Maybe there is more that we can do to work together to find a right and safe balance between the benefits of restricted visits on wellbeing and quality of life, and the risk of transmission to staff and vulnerable residents.
Can we look at safe protective practices used in other countries? We should be exploring ways of providing a strictly limited number of designated visitors to follow the same strict procedures in order to visit their loved ones. Could we use testing and self-isolating for family members combined with PPE and infection control measures to facilitate contact?
I know elderly residents who are confused and distressed as to why their families are not visiting them. It’s difficult for many of them to understand COVID-19. I want to acknowledge the wonderful professional and compassionate work being done in nursing and care homes throughout the country in these difficult times. We must do everything we can to support them, the residents they care for, and their families.”