It’s a testament to their work that the virus never made it into the nursing home, that none of their residents, the most vulnerable among us, succumbed to the disease. It’s a testament to them as people that they sacrificed their own personal lives for the welfare of others, that they risked bringing home a virus which could have killed their family members, that they missed family occasions which will never come around again.
And yet, like those in Wexford town, the staff of Knockeen Nursing Home in Barntown, continue to wait patiently for a payment they were told they would receive at the start of the year.
“We’re disgusted, we were promised our money for being front line workers and we haven’t received it, the hospitals have all got it, the HSE workers, but they seem very slow in giving it to us,” says Melissa Dickson. “It’s like we’re having to beg for it now. We shouldn’t have to come out and ask for it. Why is one group more valued than the other? We're all in it together? Rubbish.”
These women are telling their stories in the hope someone will listen, in the hope someone will recognise the work they’ve done, and continue to do, and give them what they’ve been promised.
“When they made the announcement I said, ‘we’ll have no chance of getting that’,” says Clodagh McGrath. “You just want acknowledgement, the clapping was great, but if I get that money I said, ‘I’m going to make it up to the lads at home for being such a cranky bitch for two years’. It was a total change of life for all of us for that time. We wouldn’t feel so angry if we hadn’t worked so hard and fought so hard to keep it safe here. We worked just as hard as everyone else, we gave everything to our residents. Throughout each wave, our only thought was ‘if I bring it in and they die it will be my fault’.
“You felt like you were going to war every day. It was hard work, we kept Covid out of here, I didn’t see my mother for two Christmases because of the fear of bringing it in here. My family bore the brunt of it. I lived in fear the whole time. You felt like you were dodging bullets. We felt so responsible, they’re like family to us.”
Few people in any nursing home across Ireland, across the world, were dealing with what Breda Breen was dealing with as Covid-19 first began to creep into Irish homes. Her son lost his life at sea in March of 2020, and the family had just about enough time to hold his funeral, his month’s mind, before the country shut down. And when it came to commemorating her son a year later, Breda had a decision to make.
“I didn’t get to go my son’s first or second anniversary, I was afraid to go to a big crowd and bring it back here,” she says. “That was a choice I had to make, it was either go and bring something back to the most vulnerable cohort of people in the country or stay away.”
That she stayed away underlines the commitment these people have towards their residents, a commitment shared by her colleague Mary Parker.
“My husband is a transplant patient,” says Mary Patker. “He would be high risk, it really was scary, everybody had somebody with something, someone you had to protect. I did think of not coming in at the start, but my husband said no I had to come in.”
And with inflation and the cost of living continuing to rise, Mary says the payment would help everyone as they face into a difficult few months. “They’ve managed to do the hospitals, why does it stop now?” she says. “We didn’t ask for it, or expect it, but they told us we were getting it and we got excited. And who doesn’t need it at the moment? It’s going to be a tough winter.”
Having listened to the stories of those impacted by the pandemic, nursing home staff who have patiently waited on the sidelines for their payment, local councillor Jim Codd says it is “offensive” how they’ve been treated.
“It’s nothing more than offensive to make fish of one and fowl of the other, the virus knew no boundaries. The levels of heroics that have happened in the nursing homes must be registered. It’s unbelievable that some have received payment and other have not. I would like to thank the carers and nurses because their stories are heroic of the highest standard, such things would usually only be heard about in war time.
"At the height of Covid-19, we watched these people work form a distance and applauded their courage. it’s nothing short of obscene that once the danger lessened our government has forget about them. I’m humbled by their stories and to devalue them like this is really sickening.”