Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Family learned from death certificate that grandmother died from suspected Covid-19

Rosie Burgess who died on April 16 in a care home from suspected coronavirus
Seanín Graham

THE son of a care home resident has spoken of his horror after learning through a death certificate that his mother died from suspected Covid-19 - after being assured by staff she didn't have the virus.

Grandmother Rosie Burgess (85), from Belfast, passed away in the Oak Tree Manor facility in Dunmurry last month, just a day after relatives were informed by management she had become "unwell with constipation".

Her son, Raymond, told The Irish News that he rang the home repeatedly in the hours prior to her death to inquire about her condition and to ask if she or any other residents had contracted coronavirus.

Latest figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) reveal that 40 per cent of the 393 deaths linked to the virus up to April 24 occurred in care homes and hospices.

Formerly known as Dunmurry Manor, the Oak Tree facility was renamed following a scandal two years ago about neglect and abuse of some vulnerable residents.

Mrs Burgess, who loved playing in a lady's darts team and was the "life and soul of the party", was admitted to the home four years ago after her condition deteriorated following a dementia diagnosis.

"April 16 was the ninth anniversary of my father's death and the day my sister got a call from staff to say my mother wasn't very well," Mr Burgess said.

Raymond Burgess has expressed concerns after learning his mother, Rosie, died from suspected Covid-19 in a care home. Picture Mal McCann.

"I kept ringing them to find out how she was doing as we hadn't been able to see her due to lockdown. I was told at one point that her breathing wasn't the best but it was 'nothing to worry about'. They also said she was constipated but that she was getting medication - they told me I didn't need to keep ringing. They also insisted she didn't have coronavirus.

"At 9.45pm that night my sister rang me. I saw her name come up on the phone and I knew my mother was gone. I rang the home and asked them to explain how she died so quickly, hours after telling me she was constipated. I contacted the undertakers a short time later as she had drawn a plan up with them. I wanted to bring her home to my house."

It emerged that the undertakers were unable to collect the remains that evening as a death certificate was required and had to return the following day. A doctor certified the cause of death as "suspected Covid-19".

Mr Burgess said he and his family's grief was compounded by being unable to see his mother or give her a proper funeral.

"The funeral directors contacted me to say there was a problem after they saw the death certificate. When they told me it was Covid-19 I was really shocked as the home kept saying she didn't have it. It meant I couldn't touch my mum who I hadn't seen in weeks. The doctor said she had Covid symptoms, I was horrified," he said.

"They couldn't even embalm her and the coffin was closed. There were six of us in the funeral parlour and the undertaker said a few words by way of a service. But we had to watch the hearse being driven away as Roselawn was closed at the time. I feel so angry about it now."

The Irish News asked the home to respond to concerns raised by the family.

A spokeswoman for Runwood Homes, which owns Oak Tree Manor, confirmed there was an "unexpected deterioration in Rosie Burgess' health" and staff provided compassionate care "in line with external medical professional oversight at all times".

She added that they were "in regular contact with the family".

The spokeswoman said Mrs Burgess had an underlying respiratory condition and was receiving "palliative nursing care". However, the family last night insisted their mother was not receiving end-of-life care and had no underlying condition but was instead being treated for dementia.

The home's spokeswoman confirmed that Mrs Burgess was not tested for Covid-19 "as (she) had not displayed symptoms" but added there were a "number" of confirmed cases in the the home that had led to "strict infection prevention and control measures".

"A member of the care team remained at Rosie’s side at the time of her peaceful passing and we wish to express our most sincere condolences to the family and friends of Rosie Burgess," she said.

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