Why we had to go undercover to find out extra charges
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.