When Covid-19 struck west London, Shirin Koohyar and her siblings decided they had to get their father out of his nursing home. It was easier said than done.
Dr Ameer Koohyar, a 91-year-old Iran-born former petrochemical executive, had lived an active life and even took up roller-skating in his eighties. But now he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease at the private Nazareth House nursing home in Hammersmith.
It was only supposed to have been respite care, but his condition had deteriorated and now the home was in lockdown. Nazareth House wasn’t cheap – with fees of over £4,000 per month – but its last statutory inspection found it “requires improvement” and was “not always safe”.
From earlier visits Shirin harboured concerns about staffing levels. She said she spotted mistakes with her father’s medicine, although the latest Care Quality Commission inspection in November found no problems with the home’s use of medicine. Shirin also added promised phone contact didn’t happen.
As the lockdown progressed and with care homes increasingly on the frontline, they decided to try to get him out. It was hard to know Dr Koohyar’s wishes as he also suffered dementia. The nursing home resisted, citing the ongoing virus and its normal requirement of a month’s notice. So Shirin and her brother pleaded with adult social services at the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.
“We will acquire all the necessary equipment needed to take care of him in a safe manner and [Shirin] is already very familiar with all our father’s needs,” they told the council. “Our father is safer and better cared for by residing with Shirin until this pandemic crisis resolves.”
But the council said the risk of him contracting the virus in Shirin’s flat was the same as in the home. It said: “Adult Social Care must be confident that Mr Koohyar is in the correct caring environment where all his nursing care needs can be fully accounted for and in this case it is felt that Nazareth House offers this service.” It concluded he “should remain in Nazareth House permanently”.
“It was heartbreaking,” Shirin said. “It was a matter of life and death for him. I knew if he came out he would thrive and if he stayed in there he would die and die alone. It was a fundamental issue of having the elderly imprisoned in lockdown.”
Four days later he tested positive for Covid-19. The home told the family he wasn’t showing symptoms. Two days later, on 26 April, he died.
“I have no doubt that he would not only have survived, but thrived in my home,” said Shirin. “It is tragic.”
Nazareth House declined to comment on Dr Koohyar, citing client confidentiality, but said decisions on releasing residents were made by residents, if they have mental capacity, or their relatives, the local authority and in some cases the court of protection.
It said most of its residents had suffered such a deterioration in either mental or physical health that they couldn’t be supported in the community. It added that restricting access during the Covid-19 outbreak in the home was “a very difficult decision” and that “we have where possible allowed families to communicate with loved ones within our care through telephone conversations and video calls where able”.