Grass roots advocacy group Care Champions have said that a lack of regulation is contributing to the rising costs of access to care home facilities.
Some residents are reportedly paying over “€3,600 a year” in top up charges that pay for services like activities, access to contracted GPs, clothing, toiletries, and medical items which are not provided by private nursing homes.
Gript spoke to Majella Beattie of Care Champions who said that 80% of nursing homes in Ireland are essentially “privately run businesses” who can charge extra costs ‘as they like’.
Care Champions was established in the wake of the covid lockdowns as an advocacy group to campaign for the rights of elderly people in care facilities, many of whom Beattie says ‘suffered terribly’ during the pandemic restrictions.
Beattie said that many of the activities which nursing homes charge for are things that residents may not want to or be physically able to participate in.
She gave the example of an elderly man who might have an interest in fishing – an activity which isn’t provided for – but is being charged for things like bingo which he may have no interest in with no option to opt out.
She said it is extremely difficult to get into a public nursing home because the vast majority are private owned.
Beattie said that many residents of the private nursing home industry are unable to access services which would be provided in public homes through medical card coverage such as hoists, inflatable rings, and comfort chairs which she says can cost thousands of euros.
On top of the issues surrounding choice of activities Beattie says that many families face challenges due to the unavailability of residential care facilities in their local areas.
She says this creates particular difficulty where one elderly spouse is living in a nursing home as it would be beneficial if the spouse living independently were able to reach the home without having to travel significant distances.
She said that recent nursing home closures have meant that many people are being forced to travel ‘miles outside their communities’ and that this has been “hugely traumatic” for elderly people who are uprooted from familiar environments and routines.
“Where family members have someone with dementia or cognitive issues they need routine, they need regularity,” she said adding that the “distress it has caused people is shocking,”.
She said there has been “huge deterioration” in people who have been moved in such circumstances.
She emphasised the difficulty of trying to readjust and trying to get them back to where they were before the move happened.
She said families are often told that the homes their loved ones are resident in are “not viable” despite government grants.
“If you look at the funding that was given to the TAPS (temporary assistance payment scheme) which is hugely concerning, and I think it’s something that hasn’t been looked at properly,” she said, adding that she got the breakdown figure through an FOI request.
“Some nursing homes got over 1,000,000 in additional funds to the state funding, additional to the extra charges that families have to pay,” she said adding that “at the end of the day 80% of our nursing homes are private businesses,”
“I think that’s where the problem lies,” she said.
She pointed to an audit of the way in which TAPS payments were spent saying that whistleblower Shane Corr had claimed that millions of euros had been spent on One4All gift cards.
She acknowledged that Care Champions primarily interacts with those who have had negative experiences of the nursing home system and that there are many for whom their experience is largely positive.
Despite this she said the group, which is made up of volunteers, experienced “huge issues” during covid,
She said “an awful lot of lives” were lost in very “negative” and “traumatic” circumstances during lockdown.
Beattie says that Care Champions campaigned for ‘window visits’ during the lockdown recalling how families had been distressed by the appearance of loved ones who she says they thought looked “dirty” or “sedated”, and that some residents had appeared in clothes that did not belong to them.
She said that during this time families expressed grave concern about the levels of care being given to their loved ones at a time when homes “continued to receive additional funding from the public purse,”
“There have been no questions answered,” she said adding, “when families would go to the government looking for answers, looking for help and trying to find out what happened in the weeks leading up to their loved ones death, they’re met with brick walls,”.
“They’re told, ‘we have no regulation over private nursing homes’, but yet the state continues to give money from the public purse to homes that are failing.”
She said that despite HIQA inspections there is “no onus” on private nursing homes to come up to standard, saying that there are “no repercussions” for failing to do so.
She says issues relating to safeguarding, medication, and staffing have been brought to the attention of Care Champions but that there is little evidence that these issues are being adequately addressed.
“There might be a day of bad publicity in the local media and that’s it,” she said.