Friday 23 March 2018

Nursing homes 'taking advantage of residents' faith' with €20 Mass fee

Concerned families highlight latest 'top-up' charge to hit the elderly

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Julien Behal
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Julien Behal
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Elderly residents who attend Mass in their private nursing home are being asked to pay a €20 contribution in some cases, it has emerged.

The levy, which has been brought to the attention of the HSE and the Health Minister, is the latest "top-up" charge to emerge in the controversy over extra fees that are being foisted on many private nursing home residents. The residents are already paying for their care under the Fair Deal scheme.

The €20 Mass payment levied by some nursing home owners was highlighted at the HSE Regional Health Forum for Dublin and North East. Independent councillor Christy Burke revealed that the issue was raised with him by concerned families.

He has now written to Health Minister Simon Harris asking him to investigate the fees and said he is to highlight it with the HSE again in a bid to instigate some action.

"They are taking advantage of older people's faith and Christianity. I want to know the names of the nursing homes which are imposing this charge," he said.

But Patricia McDermott, senior manager overseeing the Fair Deal scheme, said the HSE did not have the information - as nursing homes were private operators and not obliged to provide these details.

Read More: Unholy row over extra charges is not going away

She said: "These are all private nursing homes and the charges above the Nursing Homes Support Scheme rate vary in each home - €20 being one of the lesser amounts. Some of them call this a socialisation charge, others call it an activity charge.

"Private nursing homes are private profit-making organisations and as such don't have to provide this to the HSE. However, there seems to be increasing pressure coming on them since the issue was highlighted in the media a couple of weeks ago."

Martin Long of the Catholic Press Office told the Irish Independent that priests did not charge for saying Mass in a nursing home. "It is part of the priest's pastoral duties if there is a demand for it," he said.

It was open to people attending the Mass to make a donation - but this should be entirely voluntary, he added.

"No contribution is ever sought (by a priest). There is a long tradition of priests visiting domestic and nursing homes. The celebration of the Mass is an open spiritual event."

Mr Harris is now under pressure to investigate the fees, the reason for them, and who exactly is charging them.

The Irish Independent has already revealed that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the Hiqa have begun work on drawing up a detailed contract that would be used by private nursing homes to cover areas such as top-up fees for services not covered by Fair Deal.

A report by Age Action recently found some residents are paying up to €100 in top-up fees for various services including social activities, therapies and incontinence pads.

Tadhg Daly of Nursing Homes Ireland said all nursing homes were required to provide their residents with services that were explicitly excluded from the Fair Deal scheme.

"Such services are essential to support a person's day-to-day living, their wellbeing, and to meet their healthcare needs," he said.

"All nursing homes - public, private and voluntary - must agree a contract of care with every resident upon their admission to the nursing home. The charges for such services are clearly set out within the contract agreed between the resident and the nursing home upon admission."

Concerns should initially be brought to the nursing home, or the Office of the Ombudsman.

Irish Independent

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