Padraig O'Morain: Why we must never assume horror of Rostrevor is not occurring elsewhere
Going around the city after reading the Herald report yesterday on the horrors at the Rostrevor nursing home in Rathgar, one thought persistently haunted me.
Whenever I saw the young shop assistant, a taxi driver, or any healthy person walking along the street the thought occurred to me: could you, decades from now, be the one who is taken again and again into a toilet in a nursing home where whatever is done to you makes you scream the place down?
Could you be kicked when you're lying on the floor?
Could it be your head being bashed off a door jamb by a care assistant?
We all know the answer just as we all know now that these things were happening in that home in sedate Rathgar as we went about our business.
Today it would appear that the cycle of horror at the South Dublin nursing home has been brought to an end by the actions of the Health Information and Quality Authority and the HSE.
But we must never assume that this could not be happening anywhere else -- even though the vast majority of nursing homes are run responsibly.
A truly worrying aspect of this whole affair is that the Rostrevor nursing home had been on the authorities' radar for years but was able to stay in business.
The health board tried and failed to close the home eight years ago but the necessary legislation did not exist. Seven years ago, the owner Therese Lipsett was brought to court over breaches of regulations.
She was subsequently struck off as a nurse after a staff member allegedly abused a resident. Last year HIQA inspected the home twice but the abuse of residents was kept from them.
It is only this year, after Lipsett was struck off, that three foreign workers met officials outside the premises to tell them what was going on.
The Leas Cross scandal in 2005 brought about big improvements in the protection of nursing home residents.
But protection can never be complete. Relatives are afraid to complain for fear that their loved ones will suffer when they are not there.
Many of the workers are foreign and permitted only to work in the particular home that employs them.
The possibility of employing a nurse or a care assistant with psychopathic tendencies, by which I mean a complete lack of empathy for the suffering of other people, is always there in the absence of personality testing.
The case also shows the importance of maintaining the regulation and inspection system even in the tough times we are in now and of protecting staff who blow the whistle on colleagues who are negligent, psychopathic or sadistic.
We will hear a lot of talk from politicians over the coming days about the need to protect whistleblowers.
Let us see some action now.
And here is a crucial question: what will happen to the three foreign workers who blew the whistle on the horrific events at Rostrevor?
I am ashamed that it took foreign workers in insecure jobs to tell HIQA what was going on.
But they did and they deserve our gratitude.
Will they get our gratitude?
It is reported that their work permits are specifically for employment at the Rostrevor nursing home.
If they lose their jobs - and if there is no Rostrevor nursing home to work in then it would appear that this is what will happen - then they may very well be sent home, deported in effect.
Will another nursing home employ them?
If so, will the authorities move themselves to issue new work permits?
Our Minister of State for older people, Kathleen Lynch TD, is, apparently, "horrified" at the mistreatment of old people in the Rostrevor home.
If she wants to turn her feelings to good use she could begin by ensuring that the three workers in question are looked after.