isolation  | 

Pensioner says she had to speak through window for eight days unnecessarily with son with Down syndrome

Devastated Doreen Smith told the Sunday World: ‘I hope I don’t die before my son Barry as he needs his parents to look after him and to check up on how he is being cared for.’
Liam and Barry

Liam and Barry

 Gerry Hand

A brave pensioner who is battling breast cancer has revealed how she was forced to try and communicate through a window for eight days longer than necessary with her non verbal, Down syndrome son.

And devastated Doreen Smith, from Rathmullen Park in Drogheda, County Louth, told the Sunday World: " I hope I don’t die before my son Barry as he needs his parents to look after him and to check up on how he is being cared for."

Mrs Smith says bosses in her son's care home kept him in isolation for 23 days when he contracted Covid.

Barry ,(36), is also autistic and has been in the care of the St John Of Gods community in their house on the Ard Na Mara estate in Blackrock, near Dundalk, for the last eleven years.

On November 13th last Doreen and husband Liam were contacted by one of his carers to say that Barry had caught Covid and that he had to isolate for twenty eight days and that if they wished to communicate with him they would only be able to do so if they remained outside the building.

Liam revealed: "It wasn’t isolation as you and I would understand it in so far as the other four residents and some staff members had also caught the virus so the residents were confined to the house and not just to their rooms.

"We could speak to Barry through the window of the sitting room area.

"Now we understood the need for isolation but felt that twenty eight days was exceptionally long and when we queried that we got even more confusing news, we were told that the isolation would have to last for twenty eight days dating from the time the last person contracted it.

"Now there are four other residents and a number of staff so going by those rules he could have been isolating for months which didn’t make sense at all.

"We sort of accepted they knew what the rules were but on the sixteenth day, November 31stm we rang to see how Barry was and were delighted to be told he was okay to come out and that we could even take him home if we wished.

"The house manager told us they had got an email confirming that.

‘We went down and took him shopping for Christmas presents and even though we sort of knew fourteen days isolation was the guideline we let the extra two days he was in there pass without issue.

"However on December 2nd we got another call to say Barry was back in isolation and would not be free to go until a day or two after Christmas which was a disaster as we were planning on having him home for the holidays.

"I managed to get a number for the HSE helpline and when I spoke to them a very nice lady said she was after checking his file and Barry was free to come out after fourteen days and that they did not change the time limit on that he should have been out after a fortnight which is what we believed all along.

"Now make what you will of this but clearly calls were made as Barry was then let out of isolation the very next day."

An email sent on December 8th by Paula Doyle of the St John Of Gods North East staff to Mike Egan of Downs Syndrome Ireland, who was advocating for the Smiths, confirms Barry should have left isolation over a week earlier as it states: "Public Health has also advised that residents can resume normal activity once they are 14 days post covid and symptom free for 5 days regardless of the outbreak status of the house."

Now a furious Liam is demanding answers.

He said: "Any time we rang the John Of Gods they just kept telling us it was a public health issue and they were following public health guidelines but the reality is they were actually ignoring public health guidelines not adhering to them.

"How do I feel about the way we have been treated? Well how would anyone feel when they were forced to try and talk to their child through a window for eight days more than was needed.

"How would anyone feel if they didn’t even know if they could hug their child over Christmas and all of it totally unneccessary.

"I feel the people that made this decision are a disgrace to their profession if they were doing their job properly none of this should have happened, we have been through hell, a child who cannot speak for himself has been through hell and for what reason?

"I wish somebody could stand in front of me and give me a logical honest explanation for how we have been treated."

A spokesman for the St John Of God community stated, ‘St John of God Community Services is obligated to manage any outbreak of Covid 19 in consultation with and on the advice of the HSE Public Health division.

"All five residents and 8 staff were impacted by an outbreak of COVID-19 outbreak at the facility in question. The first case occurred on 14thNovember and the last positive case was declared on the 29thNovember.

"HSE Public Health guidance is that an outbreak lasts 28 days from the last positive case being declared.

"Our primary focus of attention is on maintaining the safety of all residents, staff and their families. We recognise that isolation and restricted movement can be very challenging for the residents impacted and we fully sympathise with them and their families in this regard. However while following all appropriate protocols, our staff members are able to continue to care for, engage and support each resident to manage through the period of isolation and restricted movement as best possible.

"We also conducted extensive discussions with HSE Public Health in respect of this specific situation throughout November and early December. We were therefore both delighted and relieved that the residents in this house on the further advice of HSE Public Health were able to come out of isolation and restricted movement well in advance of Christmas and were therefore in a position to enjoy the Christmas festivities with families and friends."

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