One of the owners of a family-run care centre in Dublin has said he wants answers as to why the facility was so badly affected by Covid-19.

Fergus McNulty was speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime after The Irish Times reported that 28 residents had died at Marymount Care Centre in Lucan.

Mr McNulty said: "The focus now needs to be on the system of care, and how public and private come together to make sure we protect vulnerable citizens."

Staff and owners have "found what's happened very difficult to process", he added.

"The emotion we feel is devastation. These were people we have cared for, for years. They were parents of friends. They were local people in the community. When we start to look back, there is no question that there have to be lessons learnt from this experience."

Mr McNulty said the care home was first impacted by the virus early last month.

"It was extremely challenging and it unfolded quickly. Part of the problem was in terms of identifying symptomatic into confirmed cases and to some degree we were in the mode of trying to manage residents as their status became confirmed and provide appropriate care."

He said of the team of 170 staff, 40 members were not at work at the peak of the impact.

"Staff weren't tested and the system was jammed. Other staff members were able to increase their hours and to provide cover, so we were able to work through that."

He said protocols and the wearing of personal protective equipment were implemented in early March, in line with an increase of visitor restrictions.

"We have been in operation for 30 years. This is our life's work. We know the standard of care that we provide. That clearly jars with what we have experienced.

"As we all reflect we know we did everything that was asked of us and in line with guidelines in relation to infection control. Clearly this was not sufficient. We are trying to find a way to understand what's happened."


Read more:
Gaps in oversight of private nursing homes - HSE
Latest coronavirus stories


Mr McNulty explained that Marymount is a "modern facility, with spacious rooms".

He said: "We are predominantly single occupancy rooms. On paper, we have everything you would say you'd want in terms of having the infrastructure. Clearly all of this was not sufficient."

He said that as many as 12 new residents were accepted to the care centre "up until the early part of March" and "they all came from acute hospitals and a number of facilities in the locality".

He said owners were not aware if any of the new residents had Covid-19.

"That is possibly a weakness in the system. That's not pointing at anyone. But what we know now is that there are a significant number of people who get no Covid symptoms.

"Those residents were taken in on the basis that they were asymptomatic. They weren't tested.

"In our experience, the testing process in the early stages completely failed."

Mr McNulty said that residents and staff waited a week for tests and week to two weeks for test results. During this time he said they were observing strict protocols for those who were displaying symptoms.

He said widespread testing was a "milestone" for getting the virus "under control" at his care centre.

"We were crying out for blanket testing in early April. Unfortunately we didn't have that until 20 April. When results came back, a significant number came back positive, but to a person they were all asymptomatic. That was the milestone that got this under control."

Mr McNulty said his care centre deals with infection control as part of normal operating processes.

"Our HIQA reports have always been in good stead," he said.

Responding to comments by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd that private facilities can pay for extra staff, or to buy infection control, Mr McNulty said: "This is a once-in-a-century war. This should be about how we come together, both private and public to protect vulnerable citizens. To isolate this into you could have paid for this or that completely misses the point and it not grounded in fact."

He said the Marymount centre will be closed to new residents "for at least another month or so".

Figures, this week, contained in a Department of Health publication show Ireland with a high number of care home resident deaths, as a percentage of all Covid-19 deaths, as part of a rough comparison with 20 other countries.

It says that Canada, at 82%, has the highest number of care home resident deaths, as a percentage of all Covid-19 deaths listed.

It puts Ireland in second place, with the number of care home resident deaths, as a percentage of all deaths due to the virus, at 62%. The third ranked country on the list is France at 51%.

The report warns that international comparisons are difficult, due to different approaches to recording deaths, as well as differences in testing and policies.

The head of the Health Service Executive has said there are obvious gaps in clarity and responsibility in the oversight of private nursing homes.