Extra fees for cranberry juice over orange, immobile residents paying for 'activities' - Nursing home hidden charges revealed
Immobile woman with dementia charged €20 a month for "activities" she can't participate in
One resident was billed €100 for clothing tags to identify her laundry
Weekly charge for a doctor - even though over 70s entitled to free GP care
An elderly nursing home resident who requested cranberry juice instead of orange juice at breakfast was shocked to discover the bill for her favoured drink added to her weekly invoice.
The case is one of several examples of questionable charges imposed by some private nursing homes highlighted by the advocacy group, Sage, which is warning against hidden fees that can arise in long-stay care facilities.
Sage director Mervyn Taylor said additional mandatory charges are as high as €100 a week - €5,200 a year - in some cases, with elderly residents paying for activities they do not want or are physically unable to participate in.
A document produced by the organisation highlights the plight of a 61-year-old epilepsy sufferer, who paid €143 of his weekly €188 income towards his nursing home costs under the State's Fair Deal scheme. He was pushed into debt by additional fees, which included a €595.71 "social charge" over a two-month period, almost €50 a week. He was billed €16.70 for expensive branded vitamin B tablets supplied by the nursing home, rather than the cheaper generic version, according to the document.
In another case, an elderly woman with dementia was charged €20 a month for activities which included a weekly session of "facilitated dance and movement".
"Despite being unhappy with the 'activities' charge and a lack of clear information about what the charge actually covered, her family are reluctant to question it because of a fear that she would be asked to leave the nursing home," the Sage report said.
"In effect, this woman has been charged €20 per month over a period of more than 10 years (totalling €2,460 to date) for, as one relative put it, activities that she could not possibly participate in because of her significantly reduced mobility and advanced stage dementia."
Mr Taylor said there were discrepancies in the fees charged by nursing homes for social activities, with prices varying from €155 a month to €2.50 a day, or €70 a month.
Other questionable fees highlighted in the report included a resident who was billed €100 for clothing tags to identify her laundry.
Many nursing homes charge €20 a week for an in-house doctor, even though all over-70s are entitled to free GP care.
In one case, Sage secured a rebate for a woman who was charged €25 for chiropody, while her contract said the fee was €20.
Mr Taylor has called for more oversight of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which negotiates the fees paid to private nursing homes by the State.
Under the State's Fair Deal scheme, elderly people contribute 80pc of their income toward private nursing home costs, and up to 22.5pc of the value of their homes.
The private nursing home is paid a fee by the State, which basic covers "bed and board", laundry and nursing care, but not therapies and other extras. Nursing home operators are free to charge for any additional services they provide, as long as it is included in the contract.
Of the 30 complaints about private nursing homes made to the Ombudsman last year, five related to additional charges. A spokesman for the Ombudsman said: "We would advise anyone entering a nursing home to clarify the charges for additional services in their contract for care."
Nursing Homes Ireland has campaigned for a review of fees paid to private nursing homes, which receive far less than public nursing homes.
A Government-commissioned report found that the nursing home pricing model "lacked rationale, consistency and fairness".
Judge Mary Laffoy will chair a public meeting on human rights for older people at 6.30pm on Tuesday at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin.