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Social workers concerned about 'abuse and neglect' in private nursing homes

The original article on The Irish Examiner: 

Abuse of nursing home residents could be as bad as the notorious Áras Attracta care home scandal in 2013, according to a top academic.

Assistant professor at UCD's School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice
Dr Sarah Donnelly said too few people know what exactly has been going on behind closed doors in nursing homes during the pandemic.

As a result, she said, there was a lack of evidence of abuses that both she and other social work advocates say they are being told is going on.

Dr Donnelly believes there needs to be an independent statutory body for adult safeguarding in the same way as Tusla operates with children and families.

“Social workers need to be given legal powers to fully investigate concerns about abuse and neglect in private nursing homes,” she said.

“At present, they do not have any legal right of entry to private nursing homes. That’s the majority of nursing home residents and they cannot be protected by social workers. And that’s a large cohort of around 32,000 elderly, vulnerable people whose care is largely unsupervised by the outside world.”

In the meantime, she said families of nursing home residents must be given better access to their loved ones.

“Family visits are so important, for a variety of reasons,” she said.

We could be potentially looking at another Áras Attracta happening before our very eyes.

“And nobody is taking any concrete action.”

She added: “Most older people and families are scared, and saying we don’t want to be the ones to speak out. They are scared of the repercussions. But to me that in itself speaks volumes in terms of the ability of people in nursing homes to speak freely. They are not prisons. I can’t quite get my head around how we have got to a place where people who are not being detained against their will can’t speak out about the conditions they are living in.”

Dr Donnelly was speaking in advance of a UCD/Irish Association of Social Workers webinar, Protecting Nursing Home Residents Rights to Family Life: Lessons for Ireland.

She is one of a number of people involved in issues affecting nursing home residents who will be speaking at the webinar on Wednesday morning.

They also include Maeve O’Rourke, NUI Galway human rights lecturer and member of Justice for Magdalenes Research, and IASW member and social worker Sinead McGarry.

They also include Majella Beattie of Care Champions, a family run advocacy group for people who need care support and their families

“Families of nursing home residents are more than just visitors,” Ms Beattie said.

"They are the partners in care. They are the voice of the resident and it is to family members that they turn to if they have concerns. The inconsistency among private nursing homeowners as far as nursing home residents' rights are concerned is very disturbing. And even though nursing homes visiting restrictions were recently relaxed where 80% of residents and staff have been vaccinated, some homes are still refusing access to relatives. We do respect public health advice, but we strongly feel the Government could have and should have done an awful lot more to support safe and managed visits,” she said.

“This has been happening in other jurisdictions.”