HSE told to 'address the special circumstances' of elderly couple split up for first time in 63 years
Elderly couple Michael (90) and Kathleen (86) separated for first time in 63 years after HSE rejects Kathleen for nursing home care
Health Minister Simon Harris said he has instructed the HSE to "seek to resolve" the plight of Michael and Kathleen Devereaux "with compassion".
He also said he expects to receive an update on the situation today.
The elderly couple, aged 90 and 86 respectively, hit headlines yesterday after they told of how they have been split up for the first time in 63 years after Kathleen was rejected for nursing home care.
Earlier this year they applied as a couple for the Fair Deal scheme, which means they would pay a contribution towards the private nursing home, and the State would pay the rest. Michael was accepted but Kathleen was rejected.
Now, for the first time in 63 years the couple have been separated.
Michael broke down yesterday as he told Joe Duffy on RTE's Liveline about their situation.
"We've been separated for the first time in our lives after 63 long years of marriage," he said.
"I can't explain it. I feel as if my head is going to burst."
Michael is currently waiting in a double room in the nursing home for his wife to join him. He said he is heartbroken without her but he can't afford to pay for private full-time residential care.
Health Minister Simon Harris responded to the situation this morning and said he has instructed the HSE "to seek to resolve the situation."
In a statement released to RTE's Morning Ireland, the Department of Health said; "Minister Harris was very concerned to hear of the situation regarding this couple.
"He has instructed the HSE to seek to resolve the situation and address the special circumstances with compassion being absolutely paramount.
"The Minister expects to receive an update today and is very clear that this must be resolved."
Michael, a former accountant, and Kathleen's son Tom told of the suffering the family have gone through since the HSE ruled that their mother did not qualify for the Fair Deal, on the grounds that she was deemed "independent" and capable of looking after herself.
"My father went into the nursing home in April but my mother wasn't consented for the scheme. I had to put in a review and it was turned down and this was despite letter from her GP saying she needed long-term care," he explained.
"It's horrific. On a daily basis both of them are crying. It's tough on myself and my two sisters and all the grandchildren too."
Kathleen has been in Wexford General since April 28 when she was admitted for a bacterial infection. She also suffers with arthritis. The hospital want to discharge her but she is unable to come home. She hasn't left her ward since being admitted.
Michael is in a double room in his nursing home. Since he's been there, the other bed has been vacant.
"For quite a few weeks since he's been in the bed has been empty. It just doesn't make sense," said Tom.
"They're in their twilight years. At the ages they're at obviously they're not going to live too long. I never thought they'd end up in a situation like this. They're being treated really, really badly."
Michael also spoke to Liveline but the former accountant struggled to fight back tears when speaking about his wife.
"I can't sleep. I wake at three or maybe four every morning. I pray and then I cry. It's terrible," he said.
"We've been separated for the first time in our lives after 63 long years of marriage. I can't explain it. I feel as if my head is going to burst. The fact is we just love each other so much. It's a nightmare for me and it's a nightmare I'm sure for my lovely wife.
"Did I ever think for one moment..." he said before he burst into tears.
"We were loyal citizens all our lives and it's terrible to think that the same country has left us in this situation. I'm devastated."
Kathleen told Liveline that she doesn't understand why the family's appeal was rejected.
"They don't talk much to me at all, it's all between my husband and my son. I'm in a ward here for the eighth week and it's dreadful. I want to go to the nursing home and be with my husband.
"I saw him the other day for about an hour. Somebody brought him to me. I'm upset too. It's dreadful. What's going to happen?" she asked.
Tom explained that since their appeal was rejected, the only option available to them is to take the matter to the High Court but he doesn't want to put his parents through the trauma of a trial.
"In the event of an appeal not being allowed the only step is to go to the High Court. What person in an advanced age can take on the High Court. There's no compassion for the elderly. It's horrific," he said.
"We don't have the skills or the training to look after my mother and she needs care night and day. We thought my father was going to pass away in February but he has improved since going to the nursing home thanks to the level of care. We fought and fought to say [my mother] is not independent. We've seen it at home."
Tom said that there was a "failing in the system" and highlighted the fact that if his mother was allowed to leave the hospital and move to the nursing home, her hospital bed would be free for someone else.
"Even the way that my mother was assessed... it was on toilet use, dressing and bathing but it was all verbal," he said.
"They didn't interview my father in the appeal. They didn't interview anyone.
"A married couple together for so long, how can we challenge this?" he asked.
"Things has moved on since [the interview]. Her health is not improving. It's getting worse while she's in hospital and she accepts that she can't be at home. All she wants is to be beside her husband for God knows how many days, months, years they have left."
Tom's sister Sheila told Independent.ie that the family is confident their mother would have a greater quality of life in the nursing home, not just because she will be reunited with her husband but because the level of care there is "excellent".
"It's a fantastic nursing home and they've done so much for my father. His health has improved greatly since he's been there. They've been very good to him and to us. I know it isn't home but they've made it very homely.
"We feel a great sense of hopelessness about my mother's situation but we know that if we could get her a place there she would be happy and well looked after," she said.
A Department of Health representative told Independent.ie yesterday that they've asked the HSE to look into Michael and Kathleen's case as a "matter of urgency."
A spokesperson for the HSE said that they are "very conscious of the circumstances raised in media this afternoon" in a statement released to Independent.ie.
It added: "The HSE can also assure the public that its Community Healthcare Organisation in the Wexford area will be liaising with the family concerned and will arrange to meet with them in an attempt at reaching a resolution as soon as possible."