Nursing home leader on living in a ‘parallel universe’ while desperately battling the virus

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When the pandemic hit in early 2020, a sense of fear and uncertainty was palpable across society, and in settings like nursing homes, this anxiety was amplified by the real threat that Covid-19 posed. on residents.

rían McNamara (43) runs Greenpark Nursing Home in Tuam, Co Galway, a residential facility established by his parents Brian and Cora in 1991.

Mr. McNamara has been with Greenpark for almost 20 years and took over the management of the family business two years ago.

When the coronavirus first landed in Europe, he said, there was a lot of concern among staff and residents, and especially when it led to the death of many elderly people in some parts. from Italy and Spain in the first wave.

“Some of the images from these places were very scary and we also started to worry about our own residents.

“Just before the government imposed restrictions, we started putting up signs asking people to be careful if they had traveled somewhere or if they didn’t feel good about not visiting the care home.

“Then visitation restrictions started in early March and that was it then.”

Mr McNamara said that with the infection control measures they have put in place, they were able to withstand the first waves of the pandemic effectively, without an outbreak.

“We have set up a visitation area under a marquee next to the retirement home, so that people do not cross the building.

“People could visit through screens so they could always see family members with appointments.

“Before Christmas (2020), however, we could see that the numbers were increasing and we had to end all visits again.”

Tragedy struck in early 2021, however, as the B. 117 variant swept through Ireland.

At this time the health service was under the greatest strain of any period of the pandemic and outbreaks were being reported in care homes across Ireland.

Greenpark was no exception, and the highly infectious strain of the virus made its way inside the facility just days before many residents received their first doses of the vaccine.

“Immediately we went into full lockdown as if we were in an epidemic.

“We did PCR tests the next day, and the day after the tests we had four positive cases and it was an avalanche from there.”

The subsequent tidal wave of cases saw 35 of 49 residents catch the virus over a three-week period.

Twelve of those infected have died, four of them in two separate 24-hour windows.

Mr McNamara said watching people die from Covid-19 was “really hard to bear”, but the tragedy was made worse by how quickly it happened.

He said local retired healthcare workers and HSE agency staff came to their aid and covered shifts while employees were sick.

The help they have received from the HSE and local people has enabled them to continue to care for their residents.

The facility had to wait 28 days after its last positive case to be considered out of the outbreak.

“I remember getting the email from the HSE that said you are now out of the outbreak and I just sat in my office and cried. It was like we were taking a break minutes,” McNamara said.

“It’s hard to describe this relief unless you actually experience it, and it was like living in a parallel universe.”

Fortunately, the Greenpark resident began receiving his first doses of the vaccine within months and Mr McNamara said the vaccinations had been “completely game-changing”.

The facility experienced another outbreak in September 2021 when two staff members and two residents tested positive but “everyone was fine”.

While some safety improvements — such as visitation appointments and mask-wearing — are still the new normal “life is getting back to normal,” he said.

“Our residents are much happier.”