Nursing homes have been particularly impacted by COVID-19 both in Ireland and internationally. The central focus of the response to COVID-19 has been to control the spread of the virus in so far as possible to protect those who are most vulnerable from infection, as well as protecting against causes, situations, circumstances, and behaviours that may lead to the spread of COVID-19.
Sustained communication and interagency cooperation also remain central to the response to COVID-19. The State’s responsibility to respond to the public health emergency created the need for the HSE to set up a structured nursing home support system in line with NPHET recommendations. This package of supports has been a critical intervention in supporting the resilience of the sector in meeting the unprecedented challenges associated with COVID-19. Guidance, PPE, staffing, serial testing, infection prevention and control training, accommodation and financial support have been provided to the nursing home sector, both public and private. In addition, multi-disciplinary clinical supports are in place at CHO level through 23 COVID-19 Response Teams as well as outbreak control teams responding to outbreaks.
It remains a legal obligation that every provider ensures that the number and skill mix of staff within its nursing home is appropriate having regard to the needs of the residents and the size and layout of the nursing home concerned. HIQA has published a regulatory assessment framework of the preparedness of designated centres for older people for a COVID-19 outbreak. Under this framework the provider should ensure that they have contingency plans in place, that their contingency plan is based on national guidance from the HSE, HPSC and Government and that it is reviewed regularly to include clear contingency arrangements, including, to establish surge capacity and arrangements to address potential staffing shortage.
In addition, as part of a package of support measures for nursing homes, a COVID-19 Temporary Assistance Payment Scheme was established. This opened for applications on 17th April 2020. The core concept of the scheme is that the State will provide additional funding to those nursing homes that require it, to contribute towards costs associated with COVID-19 preparedness, mitigation and outbreak management. Eligible costs include both additional payroll and non-payroll COVID-19 related costs. The scheme was originally devised to operate for a 3-month period to the end of June, this scheme was extended to the end of September. The scheme is now being further extended to the end of 2020 and for the first 6 months of 2021 (end June 2021).