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'It's heartbreaking not to see our loved ones in their nursing homes, but we have to stay away so we can protect them'

As shocking figures have revealed that a third of all coronavirus-related deaths here have occurred among care home residents, Stephanie Bell asks three people what it's like having a loved one living in a nursing home


Missing routine: Cathy Topping and her mum Jean Peters

Missing routine: Cathy Topping and her mum Jean Peters

Tough going: Deborah McCorry and her mum Dorothy Banks

Tough going: Deborah McCorry and her mum Dorothy Banks


Missing routine: Cathy Topping and her mum Jean Peters

Since her mum moved into a care home three years ago, Cathy Topping has visited her every other day.

It is a routine that both mum and daughter are missing a lot, since the care home was closed to visitors a week before the nation went into lockdown.

Cathy (59), a retired medical secretary from Lurgan, hasn't been able to visit her mum Jean Peters (89) in Belvedere Care Home in Lurgan for almost five weeks - however she says she is comforted by the knowledge that her mum is safe.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Despite Covid-19's deadly spread among many care homes in the UK and in Northern Ireland, Cathy is confident that her mum is being protected as much as possible, and staying away as a family is one of the those measures keeping her safe.

"As hard as it is, I would hate to be the person to bring the virus in to my mum," Cathy says.

"It has been nearly five weeks since visits stopped and mum has dementia and doesn't really understand why we can't come and see her which is hard.

"The home has done everything they possibly can to protect the residents and thankfully no one has taken ill so far.

"We have to do as we are told, as it is the only thing that will get us all through this."

Cathy, who is married to Rob (60), an engineer, has three grown-up children and five grandchildren.

Her youngest granddaughter, Elsie, is just 20 weeks old and is also being shielded for her own protection - and Cathy hasn't seen or cuddled her yet.

That, and not being able to visit her mum, are the toughest parts of lockdown for her.

Care home staff have been trying to keep families in touch with loved ones via online video calls, although for Cathy the good old fashioned phone has proven easier for her mum to understand.

"We can ring mum any time of the day or night and as often as we like and the staff are brilliant, they will take the phone to her," she says.

"Mum doesn't understand the video calls. She can see us but she just looks at me and doesn't speak, as I think technically it is too much for her.

"We have found it is easier to just talk by phone.

"Someone from the family would have visited her every day and she doesn't understand why we aren't visiting anymore and keeps asking why we haven't been up to see her.

"Her short term memory is bad, so every time we ring her we have to explain that there is a virus making everyone sick and the girls in the home have also explained it to her over and over."

News of the virus spreading through other care homes has caused Cathy alarm and she is concerned for both staff and residents.

She adds: "It is always in the back of your mind but thankfully Belvedere is free of it and stopping us all going in has no doubt helped.

"The staff members wear full PPE gear including goggles and gloves and they are also practising social distancing among the residents in the main lounges. We are all missing mum but as tough as it is we have to stick with it until things are relaxed."

‘I’m worried sick, but the staff are wearing full protective gear and are very careful’

Deborah McCorry from Magheralin was brought up an only child by her single mum Dorothy Banks and lived with her all her life until Dorothy had to go into a nursing home a year ago.


Tough going: Deborah McCorry and her mum Dorothy Banks

Tough going: Deborah McCorry and her mum Dorothy Banks

Tough going: Deborah McCorry and her mum Dorothy Banks

A health trust care worker who looks after elderly people in the community, she had also been caring for her mum at home for many years.

Deborah (47), who is married to Mark (49), a factory worker, says she has struggled to cope with her mum being in a nursing home and, now that she can't see her at all, she is completely heartbroken.

"Mum is in Mountvale Nursing Home in Dromore and I visited her every day, usually twice a day, and would have sat with her for a couple of hours every night," she says.

"I haven't seen her since March 13 and it is horrendous, especially dropping stuff off for her and knowing you can't go in and see her.

"The fact that I can't hug her or give her a kiss or chat and laugh with her is so hard.

"Mum was upset at the start that I couldn't visit but she is doing fine now and is actually coping better than I am.

"She does wish it was all over as she misses me terribly.

"I looked after my mum for years until she had to go into a nursing home because she can't walk now and the pain she is in can be horrendous and needs to be managed.

"I still haven't got used to her being in a home and even though it is a fantastic home and the staff are amazing, it is breaking my heart not being able to see her."

Dorothy has a number of health issues and in addition is diabetic, which makes her especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The death toll in homes here has understandably added to Deborah's distress.

"What is happening in care homes is horrendous," she says. "I am sick with worry. Thankfully there is no sign of the virus in mum's home and I do ask about it often. All the staff are very careful.

"Because of mum's underlying health issues I dread to think what would happen if the virus went into her home.

"I even worry about when lockdown is lifted, if it will still be about."

As a carer in the community herself, Deborah is risking her own health every day to look after elderly and vulnerable people in their own homes.

She knows the steps she has to take to keep herself and her clients safe and appreciates how care workers in her mum's nursing home are taking similar precautions.

"At first it really frightened the life out of me and I was a bundle of nerves going to work," she says.

"I still feel nervous - but not quite so much - as we have masks, visors, gloves and aprons now and I just keep washing my hands and my uniform.

"I know the care staff in mum's home are also wearing full protective gear and are being very careful.

"As much as I miss my mum, there is no way I would go near her at the minute and I think it is right we need to stay away to protect our loved ones."

‘I’ve never gone five days in my life without seeing mum and it’s been five weeks now’

Beverley Wilson works as a home care assistant for the Southern Trust and hasn't seen her 73-year-old mum Margaret Wilson since Mother's Day. Beverley's mum has vascular dementia and can't walk.


Fond memory: Beverley Wilson, mum Margaret and daughter Rebekka last year

Fond memory: Beverley Wilson, mum Margaret and daughter Rebekka last year

Fond memory: Beverley Wilson, mum Margaret and daughter Rebekka last year

As an only child and single mum to Rebekka, Beverley (52) from Lurgan has always been very close to her mum - and visited her up to three times daily. Missing her mum has become so difficult that this week she stood in the grounds of Aughnacloy Nursing Home and shouted a greeting up to her mum whose room is on the second floor.

When staff became aware of what she was doing they rushed to her mum's room and got her out of bed into her wheelchair so that she could see her from the window.

"It has been really hard because we are so close and I have never gone five days in my life, never mind five weeks, without seeing mum," Beverley says.

"She has an idea of what is going on but sometimes she forgets and when I call her she asks if I am coming up to see her.

"The other day I just stopped at the home and shouted up to her window 'hello mum' and the care assistants came out and told me to wait.

"They hoisted her into her wheelchair and brought her to the window and I was able to chat to her for about 15 minutes which was really good of them.

"I video call her every other day and she is in good form. She would see herself on the screen and complain that her hair needs done!"

With concerns over the spread of the virus in care homes, Beverley is grateful for a weekly "situation report" from Aughnacloy which is sent to the relatives of all their residents. It is a document detailing if there are any signs of Covid-19 symptoms among staff or residents.

Beverley admits: "So far there has been no one in the home with the virus, which is such a relief.

"I do have worries but I try to keep them at bay. I know the staff are doing their best and they are wearing full protective gear and getting the report each week is reassuring.

"What is happening in nursing homes is heartbreaking and you just have to switch off from the news and not dwell on it."

As a care worker in the community, Beverley is grateful that she too has full PPE to protect her and the vulnerable people she looks after.

"It is something I have to do and most of the people I go into have no visitors anymore - we are the only people they are seeing each day and they are finding it very hard," she says.

"The risk is always there in the back of your mind and I just take every precaution I can with washing my hands and my clothes every day when I finish work. If I have a day off I don't leave the house."

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