Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has described as an ‘absolute scandal’ that staff members at Sunhill Nursing Home in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth have reported that staff who tested positive for Covid-19 last week were given the option of continuing to attend work – in clear contravention of guidelines issued by the HSE and the Department of Health; which require that anyone who has tested positive for the virus, or who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, to self-isolate for fourteen days.
It is understood that one member of staff that tested positive for the virus continued to work until contacted by public health officials, who advised them to immediately return home to self-isolate.
Deputy Munster said:
“Last Monday, residents and staff at Sunhill Nursing Homes were tested for the virus. On Friday, results showed that 30 residents and 20 members of staff tested positive, including nurses, kitchen staff, management and carers.
“I have been informed that management at Sunhill called sections of staff together and advised them that if they tested positive – but were not displaying symptoms – they could remain at work and that the decision was up to each individual.
“I have been made aware of one member of staff who continued to work until advised to go home to self-isolate a day later by public health officials.
“This advice has led to a very serious situation whereby staff who tested positive were given the option to remain at work, caring for residents and working alongside staff who had tested negative for the virus.
“Last Friday, I raised this matter with the Minister for Health, the HSE and HIQA. I have been advised that there are now no members of staff who tested positive working at the nursing home. However, it appears that this was not the case in the period between the results coming in, and public health officials contacting staff members who tested positive to ensure that they were self-isolating.
“I received a statement from Sunhill this morning saying that a contingency plan was put in place over the weekend and that the situation is being managed in-house with support from the HSE, their GP and Public Health. I would have to question the assertion that the plan was put in place over the weekend when we know that staff who tested positive were not sent home by management on Friday and Saturday.
“The residents of nursing homes are among the most vulnerable in the State, and they are the most vulnerable in terms of Covid-19.
“We need a full review of this matter to establish how this advice was given to staff, how many staff remained at work after receiving a positive test for Covid-19 and who they were in contact with.
“We also need to have confidence that this is not happening elsewhere. To ensure compliance, we need to have clear guidelines for people who want to report such breaches. There does not appear to be a clear pathway for the investigation of complaints of this type. HIQA cannot investigate individual complaints. We have the Gardaí to police businesses and house parties, but nobody to ensure that nursing homes are following the guidelines.
“I wrote to the Minister today calling for him to act on this matter immediately. We need a point of contact, or preferably a separate body, tasked with policing this to ensure that those living in nursing homes are protected.”