An Uncomfortable Truth Out Of Sight


We care more about how people in nursing homes are dying now, than how they were living before Covid-19, says Clodagh Whelan

As the State responds to Covid-19 affecting 30 per cent of Ireland’s nursing homes and Department of Health figures, as of Thursday, showing 245 nursing home residents with the disease have died, social gerontologist Clodagh Whelan writes:

Nursing homes have existed in our communities and cared for our family and friends for many years.

The uncomfortable truth is that we care more about how people in nursing homes are dying now, than how they were living before Covid-19.

Over the past 20 years I have worked with older people and people living with dementia. During my eight years as part of the senior management team of a group of nursing homes, I saw how being under-resourced creates stressed staff and residents.

The lives of the staff and residents are intertwined – they are a family. They share meals, celebrate Christmas and birthdays. They know each other’s stories and struggles and they comfort each other when a member of the family dies.

That family is in trouble now and it’s taken the rest of us a while to notice.

A doctor on television tells us that people are dying in nursing Homes, newspapers are writing about those deaths and radio commentators talk of little else. Suddenly the Twittersphere lights up – we are All in this together.

Are we?

Like the parent away for too long, arriving home laden with gifts, we scramble to donate to charities supporting older people.

We write letters to people who live in nursing homes, celebrate the staff and organise fundraisers. We ask each other ‘how did this happen’? We are angry and motivated to help.

The narrative that places older people as recipients of our benevolent charity sits well. We are comfortable when our anger can be directed outward and we can blame the HSE, the Government, and the private nursing homes.

We are considerably less comfortable with the fact that older people living in nursing homes are human beings who were largely forgotten by all of us until this crisis.

Never before have the airwaves been so full of discussions on the care of older people.

As we, the general public, bask in indignation, we denigrate politicians and take swipes at private providers. We have the benefit of hindsight but are devoid of responsibility.

Yet, at the recent election, how many of us put the resourcing of care for older people on the agenda?

When the canvassers came to your door did you inquire about the resourcing of your local nursing homes? Did you inquire about the values of the National Treatment Purchase Fund or policy decisions that got us here?

So get angry, demand better care, ask the hard questions of the HSE, the Department of Health, HIQA and Nursing Homes Ireland. But ask them of yourself, too.

When this is all over, will you continue to advocate for quality care for older people and campaign for better conditions and supports for those who work in nursing homes?

People who live in nursing homes are human beings with a right to healthcare, though their address has changed their humanity has not.

We can honour their deaths by ensuring older people are never forgotten again.

Clodagh Whelan is a social gerontologist.


7 thoughts on “An Uncomfortable Truth Out Of Sight

  1. Kevin Higgins

    The death toll in Nursing Homes and the State’s role/indifference is nothing less than the application of the ‘herd immunity doctrine’ to our most vulnerable citizens, those least valued by the State. It is no more complicated than that.

    1. Cian

      This is a virus that is especially deadly to the elderly. Nursing homes, by definition, are full of the elderly.

      This isn’t an Irish thing. All countries are seeing high COVID death rates in nursing homes.

      1. GiggidyGoo

        687 is the figure for total deaths so far in the Republic.

        The total number of deaths in long term residential care centres is 406 (329 are lab-confirmed, 77 are suspect cases), and in nursing homes it’s 357 (276 lab-confirmed, and 61 suspect cases)

        Something not sitting quite right there lads.

    2. Dilbert

      What else can expect
      Look at creche costs

      Decades ago old people were looked after by their own kids
      Now we see the opposite and badly funded as well

      Imagine that rearing kids and when the need for a return it’s off to a facility then look for what they worked for when they die

    3. Truth in the News

      How many of these who lost their lives to the virus were screwed under the
      the terms of Mary Harneys so called “Fair Deal Scheme” which should be
      really called the “Raw Deal Scheme”

  2. donnachadh

    This article broaches an important issue. It shouldn’t take the horrendous circumstances that are now being visited upon our older population in nursing homes for us to start noticing them. Resources for older people have been woefully underfunded for years. In normal circumstances elder care is not the kind of “sexy” issue that our youth-obsessed culture wants to think about. I hope that articles like this one will bring it further up the agenda in people’s minds and that politicians will begin to notice that it is something people care about.

  3. Barry

    I am missing one thing in this whole discussion, is the recent % of people dying in care homes different to the “norm” and by how much?
    In fact it would be useful if the ‘authorities’ published the same data for deaths in general in relation to pandemic data.

    In general, we are missing context information. This is not to reduce the impact of the pandemic, but only to relate it to the overall impact.

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