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Rural Ireland’s Elderly to Experience Nursing Home Bed Shortage Amidst Surge in Larger Facilities

A recent study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) reveals that older residents in rural Ireland are at risk of facing a shortage of nearby nursing home beds. The research indicates that smaller private nursing homes, especially those with 30 beds or fewer, have experienced closures in rural areas, leading to a reliance on larger facilities funded by international private equity firms.

Over a two-year period from February 2020 to December 2022, nearly one in five smaller private nursing homes shut down, primarily affecting rural regions. The report highlights a decline in the number of long-term residential care beds across most counties, with Dublin and commuter belt areas witnessing an increase due to the establishment of large care homes with over 150 beds, backed by private equity funding.

The findings underscore a call for government intervention from its own backbenchers to support local nursing homes. Suggestions include subsidies and providing free skills and expertise training. Fergus O’Dowd, Fine Gael TD for Louth, emphasises the importance of preserving small nursing homes for the health of the population and the vitality of communities.

The ESRI report, focusing on changes in the residential care sector since the COVID-19 pandemic, stresses that Ireland is at a crucial point in establishing a sustainable long-term care system for older individuals. Dr. Brendan Walsh, Senior Research Officer at ESRI, notes the significant impact of the pandemic on long-term residential care and emphasises the need for policies aligning financial incentives with the goal of meeting residents’ health and social care needs in an integrated environment.

The study also points out a consolidation of private, for-profit long-term residential care home operators, largely financed by international private equity. Approximately 74% of all beds are now provided by private homes, with 14 large private operators supplying 40% of all beds nationally.

Róisín Shortall, Social Democrats health spokeswoman, highlights that the current funding system works against the small local model. She advocates for policies supporting home care, which has been underfunded, undermining the desire of older people to remain in their homes with appropriate support.

In response, the Department of Health emphasizes Minister Mary Butler’s awareness of the vital role played by smaller and voluntary nursing homes, noting a growth in the total number of beds in 2023 due to the establishment of new, larger nursing homes.

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