North Wexford marked an important milestone when two of its nursing and residential homes marked themselves as having no positive cases of Covid-19 among residents and staff.
These Courtown based nursing homes were Middletown House Nursing Home and Retirement Village and Oakfield House Nursing Home.
The Director of Nursing at Middletown House, Deepa George, she said that a lot has changed for the residents and staff as the team respond to the crisis.
'It has involved a lot of planning, permission and consent from residents. Sometimes people are so used to sitting in one area and some people like to go from one sitting room to the other sitting room and go around but we are now not able to do that. It was a bit hard for residents at the beginning but the challenge for the staff was to keep up with all the changes. The HSE guidelines change nearly every day or every second day.
'Previously we would have had a bigger room where all residents could choose what they like, and the residents want to sit beside each other but we've had to keep them in different areas.
'A few people are staying in their room, and a few people staying in small groups in different sitting areas. We are still able to do group activities once we have social distancing. Those in their room, they can't just sit down and look at the wall, they have plenty of things to do. They have their television on and radio, we have the full time activities coordinator work with them. She might give them a crossword, and then come back in a half an hour and correct it for them'.
Deepa said that the team use surgical masks every day and have plenty of supply at the moment as they did get enough, even stocking up on PPE as early as February.
'We are being supported. We have teleconferences with the HSE, we get daily updates and guidance and we have a clinical guide in Gorey. The only issue was with testing. It took 14 days to get all the results back, but thankfully they were fully clear.
'The result was delayed but then I suppose it's a learning curve for everyone, and I'm sure they probably have a lot of administration to do. The testing was done very well and it was very well organised. The national ambulance team came and they were very good but it is a worry for residents and the families,' she said.
Visitors have kept away now for over two months, which is a challenge for residents as they come to terms with new technologies to communicate with.
'It is lonely without their family. Some families would visit every day or at least once a week and they miss the family. They try their best to keep up using technology like WhatsApp and Skype, telephone calls on their mobile but it's not the same.
'Some people came and looked through the window as we did celebrate one 90th birthday from a distance as well. It's a bit awkward but you have to go along with what the guidelines are, safety comes first.
'It's all new for us as well as the residents, even just social distancing has been such new learning. Even in my training, we saw all this in a book but never had to deal with it in reality in my 25 years. The staff are excellent and are well able to follow the instructions. You have to give 100% but without the staff you wouldn't get anywhere, they have been excellent'.
Deepa said that she is confident that Middletown House can keep its Covid-19 free status, but has concerns about the easing of restrictions.
'It's an achievement but the worst is not over yet. When they are relaxing the restrictions we are terrified that people will get more relaxed in the community. The staff are being extremely good but it's a lot of sacrifice coming to work here.
'Families have the trust in us and we wrote to every family detailing what control measures we have taken and what we are doing going forward. There's an open communication with the family and they can ring at any time, I would talk to any family personally. Everyone gains that trust through the journey coming in here.
'It is a big challenge and a big responsibility going forward. But testing is improving and is more frequent, if we can get results quickly enough I would be happy with that. But visitors coming in presents another challenge, and that would need a lot of planning as well. I'm hopeful that there would be a guideline out shortly from the national health emergency team making a plan on how best to accommodate this'.
Deepa and her team do not plan on relaxing any measures themselves to best protect the most vulnerable in their care.
'We've managed so far really well but this is not the time to relax. Our control measures helped to get us this far. We've never dealt with anything like this so we started our measures early. Once the reassurance and proper training was given to the staff, such as the many training sessions on how to deal with Covid, that helped them and they're confident now. I always check in with them to see if they are confident that we'll manage if we have an outbreak. Both they and I are confident now going forward'.
Company Director at Middletown, Joe Butler, said that the team were lucky to have seen this crisis coming and went about purchasing PPE earlier in the year.
'We take each day as it comes and we are doing our best, there's not much more we can do. Nursing homes are becoming the most regulated business in the country and we are in constant communication with the HSE and HIQA. It's the same in the retirement village, they are all cocooning,' he said.
CEO of the Curam Healthcare group James White confirmed the news that Oakfield is 'Covid free' but explained that the group has decided that during the Covid-19 outbreak that they would not issue statements to the media.
Valentia House Nursing Home in Camolin was contacted for comment but no response, or confirmation on whether Covid-19 was present among staff or residents, was received by the time of going to print.