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Minister for Health announces enhanced measures to support nursing home residents in response to COVID-19

The nursing homes sector supports approximately 24,000 long term care residents through the State’s Nursing Homes Support Scheme (NHSS). Thousands more people depend on these facilities for self-funded long-term care and short stay, transitional care and respite support. Total bed capacity in Ireland through both the public and privately run facilities is over 30,000, as per the Health Information and Quality Authority bed register.

Nursing home providers and the wider health sector are keenly aware of how older people with or without underlying health conditions are at high risk of complications arising from infection with the virus when contrasted against the wider general population. The nursing homes sector is also a source of capacity for egress from acute hospitals and they need significant and continuous support in many formats in order to continue providing their current level of service to their residents, protecting their staff and providing egress options for hospitals through new admissions.

The National Public Health Emergency Team is the mechanism for overseeing the health sector response to significant health-based emergencies. It facilitates the sharing of information between the Department of Health and its agencies and provides a forum for agreement as to strategic approaches to such emergencies. On 31 March 2020 Enhanced Public Health Measures for COVID-19 Disease were agreed by NPHET in the nursing home sector along the HSE will provide high level support to private Nursing Homes these difficult times.

These measures will support the sector by:

●prioritising staff screening and testing

●providing access and use of PPE and oxygen

●supporting relevant training and education

●implementing strengthened governance structures

●mitigating against transmission risk for staff

●assisting with preparedness planning and outbreak management

Earlier this week the National Public Health Emergency Team recommended additional measures required to further support nursing home residents. A range of enhanced measures were recommended to assist residents and staff in nursing homes.

●staff screening will start in nursing homes twice a day

●COVID-19 testing will be prioritised for staff

●the HSE will provide access to PPE, expert advice and training

●each nursing home will be identifying a COVID-19 lead

Staff movement across residential facilities will be minimised and the HSE will support staff with alternative accommodation and transport, if required.

In addition to these measures, a temporary COVID-19 Financial Support Scheme is being introduced by government and will be established in the coming days, to support the critical services provided by nursing homes.

The scheme will provide a temporary assistance payment to support private and voluntary nursing homes in managing any outbreak that occurs. It is envisaged that the scheme will operate for a 3-month period. It will be reviewed after the first month’s operation.

Speaking on the 4th April 2020, Minister Harris said:

“The nursing home sector cares for one of the most precious, and vulnerable groups in our society. We must do everything we can to support them to help break the transmission of the virus.

“To this end we are extending supports to this sector so that they can continue their role in the overall public health response to COVID-19. Our goal, in these challenging times, is to protect our older people, wherever they are living.

“We must also support staff working in nursing homes, and ensure their safety and health as we continue to deal with this pandemic.

“It is vital we leave nobody behind as we navigate our way out of this pandemic.”

Temporary Support Scheme

The scheme will provide a temporary support payment, which is offered to support private and voluntary nursing homes to action measures to further militate against a COVID-19 outbreak and be capable of managing an outbreak in terms of providing safe staffing and a safe environment, should an outbreak occur.

The core concept of the scheme is that the State will provide additional funding to those nursing homes that require it. It is envisaged that the scheme will operate for a 3- month period. It will be reviewed after the first month’s operation.

It is intended that there will be two components parts of the Scheme which will be integrated:

●assistance for nursing homes subject to a standard threshold

●enhanced outbreak assistance business case (for the same period) in the event of COVID-19 outbreak

Assistance for nursing homes subject to a standard threshold

Funding will be provided to each applicant nursing home for COVID-19 related measures and expected costs for the month ahead, the first of which will be the month of April. Financial support will be provided based on the number of NHSS residents in situ as reported for the month of March by the HSE Nursing Homes Support Office.

The nursing home will receive €800 per resident per month for the first 40 residents, €400 per resident per month for the next 40 residents and €200 per resident per month thereafter.

Enhanced outbreak assistance business case

Where a nursing home has incurred significant further costs or undertaken necessary enhanced actions arising directly from COVID-19 outbreak as certified by the HSE, a nursing home may submit a separate business case for enhanced funding. In such cases, the nursing home in question will be required to submit evidence of the measures undertaken and the costs incurred, along with independent certification from an auditor that the expenditure was incurred and it relates directly to COVID-19.

The maximum assistance available to an individual nursing home per month will be twice that of the agreed monthly support (see 1 above) or a maximum amount of €75,000 inclusive of the monthly support, whichever is the lesser.

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