Martina Ferguson’s mother Ursula Derry suffers from Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia and is in Sandringham Care Home in Portadown.
From visiting her mum several times a day and tucking her into bed every night, Martina is distraught at being unable to hug and kiss her at all.
“I miss my mum. She has spent the last nine months without any hugs and kisses. I never thought I would feel I’m grieving the loss of someone who is still alive.
“My mum means the world to me and I don’t want her to be alone – I want my mum to spend the last chapter of her life with dignity, comfortably and with me and family.”
Martina, who grew up in Portadown, said she has seen her mum through her bedroom window and on the front porch of the care home but feels that her mum needs her human touch.
Ursula met her late husband, John Aloysius Derry, in the 1960s and moved to Portadown when they got married.
Martina said her mother was first diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and the family nursed her at home for several years. She moved into Sandringham in 2013 and soon after Martina set up a Relatives Support Group.
“In the last couple of years my mother has become non-verbal, she can’t clean her own nose, she can’t dress herself, she can’t stand or walk anymore. However, she can still smile, giggle and cry.
“Due to her advanced late-stage dementia she relies heavily on human touch and tactile sensory,” said Martina. “My mother is very vulnerable and I have been her advocate for many years.
“I, like many other families, have not been allowed into the bedrooms of our loved ones for nine months now.”
Martina, who points out that there has never been a blanket ban on visiting care homes, said: “It’s been a very difficult time. I have been visiting my mother’s bedroom window – trying to talk to her through the window which has been absolutely heart-breaking and very distressing. She doesn’t understand why I’m outside and not by her side.”
Martina said she had welcomed government guidance on September 23rd which introduced and outlined Care Partners for residents and families in care homes across NI.
However Martina felt she was being put off by the care home and began, with others, to campaign for more access to their loved ones.
“I contacted my mother’s care home to ask about the Care Partner arrangements and was advised they were ‘currently engaged with HSC Trusts and DoH around the role of Care Partners’.
“In my opinion I thought the Care Partner role was clearly outlined in the Government Guidance and it was a very simple concept and role to implement for our elderly.
“I engaged with Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for NI, Charlotte McArdle and Chief Social Work Office (CSWO) for NI, Sean Holland, regarding Care Partners for our elderly in Care Homes.
“Myself, along with Juliann McNally who runs Care Advice and Support NI (CHASNI) and other families engaged with one another and attended several weekly virtual workshops with DOH, RQIA, PHA, HSCB and Commissioner for Older People (COPNI).
“Myself along with other families then decided to come together at the steps of Stormont on November 21 – to stand together to support one another and remind everyone of our very vulnerable in care homes – it was to highlight the heartache that families are living with every day since care homes have locked down their residents.
“We felt we need to end this loneliness and the emotional turmoil for our loved ones in care homes.
“It is sad to see that many care homes across NI are all working differently. We were advised last week by HSCB that approximately 25% of care homes across NI have implemented Care Partners. At the time of writing this my mother’s care home has not implemented Care Partners yet. Questions must be asked - if 25% of care homes have implemented Care Partners then why have the rest not?
“In fact I haven’t been allowed into my mother’s bedroom since nine months ago.
“We have been supported by The Steve Miller Dementia Care Campaign, Rights for Residents and the Care Campaign for The Vulnerable.”
Martina added: “We hope our campaign has raised awareness around the Care Partner role/concept for our vulnerable in care homes and their families especially. Care homes should have advised families about the Care Partners back in Sept 2020 following Government Guidance.
“We hope our campaign lets families know they are not alone and there is someone fighting our elderly’s corner but we need people to come together and stand up for their loved ones – we don’t want them to feel they are forgotten about because they aren’t.
“We teamed up with Clanna (Clare Hanna, a Northern Irish singer/songwriter from County Armagh and her Videographer Darragh Haddock from Lurgan) who put together a music video and a song that was dedicated to all the residents in care homes “You Stood by my Side (Mind)”.
“Clanna was inspired after hearing about the emotional trauma and heartache that myself and many families are going through. http://www.clanna.co.uk/
“Many families have reached out to myself, Juliann McNally and Clare on social media following our campaign at Stormont and release of the song – if we offer solace and support to at least one family then we think our campaign is working.”
Martina said she understands like many families the risks of COVID-19.
She added: “Care Partners are a risk assessed and risk managed approach. How are risks being managed in our hospitals on a daily basis which is a more highly infectious environment than a care homes?
“It’s through PPE and Infection Prevention Control measures. These risks are being managed with staff in care homes and in my opinion they can be managed with families too.
“We have to remember weekly staff tests were introduced recently for staff in care homes however if a result returns negative from a weekly PCR Swab test it only means you didn’t have the virus at that date and time (NHS Advice) so this is no different to the PCR Swab tests that families can get through the drive-through test centres.”
She also started an online petition for Care Partners which people can sign - http://chng.it/TP9dpTbT
Martina added that she felt so strongly about her right to see her mother that she has taken out a legal challenge.
Her solicitors Kevin Winter Law Firm (KRW) served pre-action letters and on the 24th Nov lodged papers in High Court seeking application for Judicial Review over the handling of visiting in her mother’s care home.
“It is with great regret that I’m having to take this to court to try to be with my mum. We don’t know the outcome of this case but I have to try.”
In a statement a spokesperson for Sandringham Care Home said: “Unfortunately Sandringham Care Home has had positive Covid tests in the last few weeks among a small number of staff and residents. We are working with the Public Health Agency and all residents and staff were tested again this week. Those tests have produced more positive results which although small in number mean that officially the home is regarded as being in outbreak situation.
“In those circumstances visits to the home must be curtailed and we absolutely recognise the anguish this causes for the families of our residents, particularly at Christmas time. The Care Partner scheme is not an option in the home at this time as the visiting restrictions applied during an outbreak include care partners. We remain in ongoing contact with the Public Heath Agency as we manage this difficult situation.”
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