Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) has written to the Minister for Health querying an “irresponsible” decision to end Covid-19 supports for homes this month.
The funding — temporary assistance payment scheme (TAPS) — covered construction, increasing staff numbers, and the use of specialised machinery.
Ending support is “grossly irresponsible and defies logic”, NHI chief executive Tadhg Daly said.
NHI represents over 400 private and voluntary nursing homes. Mr Daly said members are angry the support is ending on a cliff edge instead of being phased out like other Covid business supports.
‘Abandonment of Government support’
“The decision to cease the TAPS at the end of the month represents the abandonment of Government support for measures that have become embedded in nursing home care practice,” he said.
Mr Daly said the funds are needed for measures recommended by the Covid-19 nursing homes expert panel late last year.
NHI has written to Nphet and the ministers for health and older people seeking clarity if existing infection protection control measures should be maintained or reduced.
Owen O’Brien, the owner of Haven Bay Care Centre in Kinsale Co Cork, was extremely disappointed. Haven Bay had accessed the fund and had hoped to keep the safety net:
I think they could have phased this out slowly until we hit 80% of people vaccinated. The shops and everywhere are opening up so we are more at risk now.
Haven Bay is one of less than 20% of homes that have remained free of Covid-19.
Mr O’Brien introduced antigen testing early last year and said it has identified ‘a few’ positive cases among visitors.
He has hired extra staff to help with booking visitors, maintaining extra staff dining areas, and the required infection controls. The home also needs support as it has fewer residents now.
‘Keep supports until herd immunity is achieved’
“Before Christmas, we took the view we had to restrict new residents coming in. There was a risk of transmission from the hospitals or their own homes.”
On Wednesday, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said in its annual report that a clear danger still remains for the nursing home sector.
Mr O’Brien said: “I would agree 100% with Hiqa on that.
The supports should stay until there is herd immunity with vaccination, and this virus has blown its way out.
The staff are proud they have stayed virus-free so far, he said, but added: “It took a lot of hard work and we have to be vigilant. We can’t let our guard down.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said up to mid-May 6,675 claims were approved, with €93.9m drawn down.
She confirmed the funding is ending, saying: “Priority vaccination has been provided to nursing homes and it is very encouraging that uptake has been very high among both residents and staff.
“A strong vaccine effect in nursing homes is already evident, with significant reductions in cases and mortality.”