Coronavirus: Larne care home underlines challenge of protecting residents

By Sara Girvin
BBC News NI north east reporter

  • Published
Gillaroo Lodge Larne
Image caption,
The staff at Gillaroo House care for 25 residents

The fight to keep Covid-19 out of care homes has been a tough one for nursing home staff all across Northern Ireland.

Figures released last week suggested that a third of coronavirus deaths in Northern Ireland have been in care homes and hospices.

We now know that 56 care homes here have cases of Covid 19.

But Gillaroo Lodge in Larne, County Antrim, is coronavirus-free - and they're aiming to keep it that way.

It closed to visitors on 16 March, more than a week before the UK went into lockdown.

The home’s administrator, Alison Jones, said banning visitors for the first time in their 31-year history was a difficult decision, but one taken to help protect Gillaroo’s 25 residents.

Media caption,

Coronavirus: Larne care home staff underline Covid-19 challenge

“It was very hard on all the residents, very hard on all the families, but I think looking back now it was a good decision,” she said.

“A decision that we can look back on and think, ‘okay maybe we were a bit cautious but it has worked'."

'Bridging the gap'

Gillaroo now runs virtual visiting sessions on social media for residents and their families.

“Some family members would have been here every afternoon for hours, so they miss their loved ones, and the residents miss them.

“This is a way of bridging that gap and keeping them together as a family.”

The issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) is never far from the mind of care assistant Katie Jones.

“It can get really claustrophobic with those masks on and I’ve found myself wanting to pull my mask down to say something to a resident and then realising I can’t do that," she said.

“We have to keep ourselves and each other right because it’s just so important.”

Care assistant Eva Kelso said there is a lot to think about.

“It's stressful because you have to remember to take everything off and put everything on in the same order and to change between everybody.

“It is quite stressful to remember everything as well as doing our normal everyday job,” she said.

“We’re definitely worried, it’s natural to be worried about it.

“But we love our jobs, we want to care for the residents and we want to make sure that they’re safe."

She added: “It's a risk, but it’s a risk we’re willing to take to make sure that other people’s loved ones, who they aren’t getting to see, are looked after.”

The home is happy with its PPE supply levels at present.

Gillaroo has had PPE donations from local companies and the home’s director has even taken to making masks for staff.

The home has always used aprons and gloves, but bought masks for the first time after the Covid-19 outbreak.

It was recently told by a supplier that masks had risen in price by 800%.

'Doing everything to keep it out'

Nicola McCrudden has been a nursing home manager for 26 years.

“I would say this is the most stressful time that I’ve ever experienced because of the high risk," she said.

“We have a high-risk group and there’s a very high risk that they will get it.

“That’s why we’re working so hard to keep it out of the nursing home.

“It’s a small home - if it got in, it would be catastrophic."

“We’re doing everything we can to keep it out, and we think we’re doing a good job.”