Nursing home visits "certainly won’t be business as usual" when they resume tomorrow, according to the owner of one home in Co Cork.
Diarmuid Ó Dálaigh, owner of Oaklodge Nursing Home in Cloyne, says there's some nervousness about visitors returning - but that it's also a "great step forward" for residents after months of coronavirus lockdown.
Limited visits will be allowed from tomorrow, albeit with strict restrictions on who can visit and for how long.
Only facilities that have been COVID-19 free for 28 days will be open for visits.
Mr Ó Dálaigh told Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh that visitors to Oaklodge will have to wear face masks and undergo a health screening check, and that visits will only happen outdoors for now.
He explained: "The family has to nominate two persons who can visit separately, and then those people have to undertake a health screening check to make sure they’re safe and aren’t bringing any risk into residents.
“I’m sure every nursing home up and down the country will be extremely careful, but we’re keeping to outside visiting only for the next period of time - until such time as we’re really, really sure.
"The residents are nervous, we’re nervous, and the families are quite nervous. It certainly won’t be business as usual."
Mr Ó Dálaigh noted they are working towards having a dedicated room for visits, which would allow for social distancing and which would be disinfected after each visit.
He explained: "That will take a little bit of time: we only learned about this last week and we’re not going to rush into anything.
"It’s never again going to be visiting as normal, and yet we want to be as open as we possibly can in a safe way to families to connect up with their loved ones and vice versa."
While management of the home were caught somewhat by surprise at visits being allowed earlier than initially planned, Mr Ó Dálaigh says it's right that older people in the homes are being prioritised.
He said the pandemic had caused 'havoc and devastation' in the nursing home sector, and that prolonged lockdown has had an effect on residents in homes where there weren't any COVID-19 outbreaks.
He observed: “It has been a challenge, and particularly the last month has been harder probably than the first two months. The longer you’re in lockdown without visitors, the harder it becomes.
“Some people manifest that in different ways - in nervousness, behaviour changes... they mightn’t be eating properly or [are] losing weight.
"It has demanded huge work on the part of staff, to watch out for the non-symptomatic signs and other effects of this whole lockdown."
He added that while there had been plenty of Facetime calls and 'window visits' in recent months, many families were "delighted altogether" when they heard visits would resume and were immediately in contact with the home to arrange plans.