The family of a man who died from Covid-19 while in hospital for stroke treatment have called for an investigation into why patients suspected of having been infected were cared for on the same ward as non-Covid patients.
ackie Carolan (79) died in a "Covid bay" on the elderly care medicine ward at Mayo University Hospital (MUH) on April 1. He had been moved into the bay, where there were three other suspected Covid cases, from a stroke bay on the same ward the day before he died.
"There shouldn't have been any Covid patients on the ward and there was,' Mr Carolan's daughter Teresa Shaw told the Irish Independent.
"I said goodbye to Daddy on April 1, when he was in a Covid-19 bay. At that stage we didn't know if he was positive because he was screened the previous day when he was in the stroke bay on the same ward. That was the first we knew about Covid being on that ward."
Mr Carolan, a father-of-four from Ballymunnelly, Bellacorick, Ballina, Co Mayo, was admitted to the hospital via A&E on March 18 after suffering a mini-stroke at home.
"He walked into the ambulance and the crew spent some time organising him,' said Ms Shaw.
"When they were ready to leave the crew allowed Mammy on to the ambulance. She explained to Daddy she wouldn't be able to visit because of the virus.
"She told him that she would be ringing a few times a day. Daddy put his hand up and said, 'That's sound.' That's Mammy's last memory of the last words she had with him."
The day after Mr Carolan was admitted, he suffered a stroke. On Friday March 20, his family were told his speech had been affected by it, but he was sitting up and eating. Plans were being made for his discharge and rehabilitation.
Ms Shaw recalled: "At that point I thought, we have lost a bit of the person here, but my mother was very positive, and they were talking about rehabilitation, so we were hopeful."
Over the course of the next week, she made twice-daily calls for updates on her father's condition. Visitors were banned, so all contact was over the phone.
By Thursday, March 26 Ms Shaw was told his "infection markers were raised" but there was an improvement in his condition, and he didn't appear to be as confused as he had been in previous days. She was told he had bedside physio.
That evening, a nurse facilitated a call between Mr Carolan and his wife.
Ms Shaw said: "It was very upsetting for Mammy but the nurse used his own phone so she could talk to him. Then over the weekend everything just started to go downhill."
After having trouble getting an update on her father's condition on the Saturday, Ms Shaw spoke to a nurse who told her staff were "thin on the ground" and her father was comfortable.
On Sunday, Mr Carolan was sent for a chest X-ray and by Monday his family discovered he was on oxygen.
"I was told he had started oxygen the previous evening,' said Ms Shaw.
"I wasn't happy to be hearing that so late. I was concerned.
"I was told his infection markers were raised but improving."
The following day, she was told her father's temperature had spiked the previous night, he was being screened for Covid-19 and would be moving into the ward "Covid bay".
"That was the first I knew there was Covid-19 on that ward," said Ms Shaw.
"I didn't think for a minute there were positive patients on that ward until that point.
"I am a nurse myself. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that there would have been a Covid-19 bay on that award."
The elderly medicine ward in Mayo University Hospital has 22 beds, consisting of three six-bed areas, and four single rooms, one of which is an isolation room.
Ms Shaw said her father was placed in one of the six-bed areas, which had been downsized to four for social distancing. This was known as the 'Covid bay'. On April 1, his family were allowed an "end of life" visit to the ward.
"Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw," said Ms Shaw.
"We walked into the elderly care medicine ward, past the six-bedded stroke bay where Daddy was initially, to the nurse's station where we introduced ourselves.
"We were then led to the Covid-19 bay. We were shown the PPE gear to put on.
"Daddy had the curtains drawn all around him and there were three other men in the bay. We were completely shocked when we saw him.
"It was very undignified. He had wall oxygen and you could hear he was struggling to breathe. The three other men in the bay could hear that and I was thinking this is awful for the other three patients here, who might be positive, not be positive.
"One of them was waiting on results like my father was."
Ms Shaw and her siblings used a mobile to FaceTime their mother Madge. Ms Carolan decided to visit her husband to say goodbye. A priest was called to anoint Mr Carolan.
While all this was going on, Ms Shaw, a qualified nurse, witnessed staff moving between a confirmed positive Covid patient and one of the men in the Covid bay.
"Opposite the Covid-19 bay there were two cubicles and in one of them was a Covid positive patient," she said.
"I witnessed a nurse looking after the positive patient in there who was also looking after the patients in the Covid-19 bay, who may or may not have been positive. It was alarming to see that."
In a radio interview on 'Midwest News' on April 24, Tony Canavan, chief executive of Saolta University Healthcare Group, was asked about claims there had been a crossover by staff at the Mayo hospital, with some staff treating Covid-19 patients and others.
He admitted that had been the case with "some" staff but insisted the practice has now been discontinued.
He said: "Up until this week there was a crossover between some staff, a relatively small number in Mayo General hospital, but we put arrangements in place from Tuesday morning such that there was a complete separation of all staff now."
In a statement to the Irish Independent about Ms Shaw's claims that staff were caring for Covid-positive and suspected Covid cases, Saolta University Healthcare Group (SUHG) said it had "separated its clinical staff into teams to minimise contact between staff and reduce the risk of healthcare worker and patient infection".
Mr Carolan died at 11.05am on April 1. Two days later, on April 3, his test for Covid-19 came back positive.
Since his death, the Carolan family have been writing to Mayo University Hospital seeking answers to questions about his care.
"My father was 79," Ms Shaw said. "He had a good diet, he was on medication, but he didn't smoke and he didn't drink.
"If he hadn't got Covid in there, we believe he would have lived. This needs to be investigated. We don't want other families going through the same as us."
SUHG told the Irish Independent: "In Mayo University Hospital, streaming of patients into Covid-19 and non Covid-19 pathways has been in place since mid-March in line with the guidance at the time.
"This meant that to the greatest extent possible, patients who were suspected of having Covid-19 or were confirmed of having Covid-19 were kept physically separate from other patients in the hospital."
The statement added: "Clearly, while every effort is made to ensure patients are streamed separately, occasionally it will happen that a person in a designated 'non-Covid' space will turn out to be positive as they may not have shown any symptoms."
The hospital would not confirm or deny that suspected cases of Covid-19 were placed in a "Covid bay" on the elderly care medicine ward during the period Mr Carolan was there, despite repeated requests for clarity.