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'We are drip-fed information, but dad mattered and we will keep being his voice in all this'

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Mum-of-four Anna Laughlin died of Covid-19 having been in care at The Rock Nursing Unit

Mum-of-four Anna Laughlin died of Covid-19 having been in care at The Rock Nursing Unit

Mum-of-four Anna Laughlin died of Covid-19 having been in care at The Rock Nursing Unit

Anna Laughlin (94) was a familiar sight as she zipped along the hallways of The Rock Nursing Unit in Ballyshannon in her wheelchair.

She had only been a resident for two years, after her health began to fail and several underlying conditions meant she needed closer medical care.

The mother-of-four got a new lease of life after making The Rock her new home and although she was finding it harder to move around unaided, she was doing well as the first few months of the year came and went. She was happy and settled.

The many staff who cared for her enjoyed her quick wit and humour and fellow residents grew fond of her company as she immersed herself in activities.

She spent her days buzzing the hallways and cheering up bed-bound friends.

But last month that all changed. It was Good Friday when the Irish Red Cross entered the place Anna called home and evacuated her and 17 other residents.

The mercy mission, as it has been described locally, had been carefully planned in advance by the HSE.

Outbreak

Alarm bells had started to ring at the facility after a resident died and several staff fell ill with suspected Covid-19. There were also concerns about the ability to control a Covid outbreak in such an old building.

So, in a desperate bid to avert disaster, the Red Cross swooped in, assisted by the Civil Defence, shepherding Anna and her fellow residents safely away in ambulances.

"The residents had all been told what was going to be happening so it was a case of just gently getting them," Valerie McGrath, assistant area director of units at the Donegal branch of the Irish Red Cross told the Herald.

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The Rock Nursing Unit

The Rock Nursing Unit

The Rock Nursing Unit

"We were in full PPE and those residents who could wear masks had them on. We took two patients at a time, with whatever belongings they had, in each of our three ambulances. We would drop them off, clean down, because it was all under suspected Covid, and then pick up another patient. It was a big task that the HSE couldn't have done on its own."

Earlier that day, in her house a few hundred metres away, Anna's daughter Mary Egan had answered a phone call from staff at The Rock.

"I was told mammy was being taken to Stranorlar for her own safety," she said.

"When and where she got Covid-19 I still don't know. All I know is that I last saw her on March 14 and she died from the virus on April 21."

This week it emerged that the HSE-run The Rock Nursing Unit had experienced 10 Covid-19 deaths at a facility that has a maximum occupancy of 22, the equivalent of 45pc of its capacity.

The figures came from a confidential HSE report, published by the Irish Times, detailing long-term care settings around the country and the Covid-19 deaths recorded in each one.

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Charlie Bollard’s family want answers

Charlie Bollard’s family want answers

Charlie Bollard’s family want answers

Some operators have disputed the figures in the report, claiming that they are not accurate.

Commenting on the startling statistics, Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty referred to The Rock and the fact that residents had been transferred to another setting which, he claimed at the time, was Covid-free.

Furthermore, Doherty hit out at the "blame game" between the HSE and HIQA, who said at the Oireachtas Covid Committee on Tuesday that it did not have the figures for the deaths in nursing homes at the time. However, it appears that the figures had already been collated in a report.

Likewise, issues regarding transparency were also raised by a number of TDs when the Department of Health released over 400 pages of correspondence from Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) and the Government just hours before the committee was due to start.

It was clearly noted that NHI had raised issues over access to PPE and asked for detailed guidance for the sector on how to deal with the outbreak.

As more and more information leaked out this week, via the Covid-19 Committee, documents dumped online by the Department of Health and statistics uncovered by journalists, the families of those who died were left reeling.

"This week has been incredibly upsetting," said Sarah Bollard, who lost her father to Covid-19 in a Co Kildare nursing home.

Sarah's father Charlie (71) passed away on April 12 after he became ill and was transferred to Connolly Hospital.

The Bollard family claim they had been asking the nursing home to test him in the days before his transfer.

"What we wanted was for him to be tested but it just wasn't being done," said Sarah.

"He was sent to Connolly where he tested positive and that's where he died."

Ms Bollard has been following developments since and found the interaction at the Dail committee hearing this week particularly frustrating.

"We are being drip-fed information," she said. "Even the politicians can't get answers. For us, we have been trying to get answers from everywhere, from HIQA, from the nursing home, from the HSE.

Voice

"We are just sent from one to the other with no hope of getting to the facts. By the time this is all over it will be too little, too late for us and for our dad.

"But our dad mattered. He mattered to us and we will keep being his voice in all of this."

Many families who have spoken to the Herald about nursing homes have expressed frustration over communication during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vast majority of care facilities cite confidentiality as a reason not to divulge numbers on deaths and infections. However, given the sheer scale of the crisis in these settings, and the public interest issues at play, many families feel they, and the public, have a right to know.

After the publication of numbers relating to deaths in each facility this week, the HSE cautioned against pitting homes against each other by way of analysis.

A spokesperson said: "Residential settings differ greatly, meeting a wide variety of care needs. Some settings provide care to those with very complex needs, while others may have few residents requiring such medical care."