Why we had to go un­der­cover to find out ex­tra charges

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Special Ivestigation - Maeve Shee­han

WHEN the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent be­gan re­search­ing ad­di­tional charges in pri­vate nurs­ing homes three months ago, we found plenty of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of €100-a-week top-up pay­ments, but few facts.

The charges have be­come stan­dard prac­tice in many pri­vate and vol­un­tary nurs­ing homes. They are charged to Fair Deal res­i­dents for ser­vices that nurs­ing homes are re­quired by law to pro­vide but which are not cov­ered in the fee they are paid by the State.

Older peo­ple and their fam­i­lies are al­ready con­tribut­ing to the cost of their nurs­ing home un­der the Fair Deal scheme. We wanted to find out how much more money they are be­ing asked to pay in ex­tra charges on top of their Fair Deal con­tri­bu­tions. No­body knew.

We asked the nurs­ing homes. We con­tacted a se­lec­tion of pri­vate op­er­a­tors and vol­un­tary homes. One pri­vate nurs­ing home, Hamil­ton Park Care Fa­cil­ity in north Dublin, gave us the in­for­ma­tion. Nurs­ing Homes Ire­land, its rep­re­sen­ta­tive body, then in­ter­vened to re­spond on its be­half. We did not get the in­for­ma­tion we were look­ing for.

We went about seek­ing the in­for­ma­tion another way. We pre­sented our­selves as fam­ily mem­bers en­quir­ing about nurs­ing home care on be­half of an el­derly rel­a­tive who was keen to know what charges he or she may have to pay in ad­di­tion to their Fair Deal con­tri­bu­tion.

There are more than 400 pri­vate and vol­un­tary nurs­ing homes in Ire­land. We set out to con­tact as many public and pri­vate nurs­ing homes as we could.

By the end of the ex­er­cise, we had con­tacted more than 300 nurs­ing homes. In some cases, own­ers were away. In other cases, staff were ei­ther not au­tho­rised to speak about charges or were un­aware of the de­tails.

To­day, we pub­lish a snap­shot of Ire­land’s nurs­ing homes — the vast ma­jor­ity pro­vided us with in­for­ma­tion about ad­di­tional charges. We also in­cluded nurs­ing homes that, for var­i­ous rea­sons, did not dis­close their prices.

The ta­ble op­po­site is based on in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to us by the nurs­ing homes and from our own in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

From our re­search, we dis­cov­ered that when a charge is ap­plied, it is of­ten — although not al­ways — manda­tory. Nurs­ing homes de­scribed the charge to us in dif­fer­ent ways. Some de­scribed it as an ‘ad­di­tional ser­vice charge’, others as a ‘so­cial’ or an ‘ac­tiv­i­ties’ charge. It typ­i­cally cov­ers so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, ther­a­pies such as phys­io­ther­apy as­sess­ments, mas­sage, mu­sic and en­ter­tain­ment, re­li­gious ser­vices and games. These ser­vices are not in­cluded in the fee per res­i­dent paid by Fair Deal to nurs­ing home op­er­a­tors.

In some cases, nurs­ing home op­er­a­tors told us the charge also cov­ered main­te­nance or the cost of spe­cial­ist equip­ment that the res­i­dent may re­quire at some stage dur­ing their stay.

On top of the ad­di­tional charge, res­i­dents are usu­ally charged for ‘ex­tras’ such as hair­dress­ing, per­sonal news­pa­pers and spe­cific ther­apy ses­sions not cov­ered by their med­i­cal card but res­i­dents just pay for what they use.

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