Costs could force private nursing homes to close

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MAKING PLANS Noel Marley pictured with colleagues at The Pilgrims Rest, Westport. Pic: Michael Mc Laughlin

Westport facility sees heating bill soar by €4,000 a month


Anton McNulty

SMALL privately owned nursing homes will find it difficult to stay open due to increased energy costs and a lack of financial support for the sector.
That is the opinion of the owner of Pilgrim’s Rest Nursing Home in Barley Hill outside Westport, Noel Marley, who says his energy bill has doubled since the start of the year.
Pilgrim’s Rest has 33 residents currently, and Mr Marley explained that the home is dependent on oil for heating, gas for cooking and laundry, and electricity for power.
“It is a grave issue,” he told The Mayo News. “We burn probably ten times [the amount of electricity] than that of a family home. Our energy costs have doubled certainly. Oil has doubled, and that is a big one for us, because central heating has to be on all the time. You would be talking about the guts of €4,000 a month more than say six months or a year ago.”

Fair Deal constraint
Unlike other businesses, which can pass on their costs to their customers, nursing homes are not in a position to do this due to the Fair Deal fees, which are fixed following negotiations with the Government through the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).
A number of small nursing homes have shut in 2022, and Mr Marley believes that unless there are changes to the NTPF to reflect the increased cost of living, many more operators will have no option but to close.
“Everything has gone up, and everyone has taken the opportunity to put up their prices. It is the fuel costs which make it very difficult. It is a worry. There is no point saying I am not worrying about it, because I am.
“Remember, a similar service run by the health board is incurring the same costs but the people running that service are not awake at night wondering will they be able to keep going in six months’ time because they know the funds are there. It won’t be an issue for them, but it will be an issue for the likes of me, because I don’t have a blank cheque book.
“The smaller nursing homes with under 40 beds are closing hand over fist, and it is not only about the energy crisis, it is to do with regulation and the costs they put on places which are in need of refurbishment. There is a cost to all of that, and a lot of the smaller nursing homes decided it is not worth it… we are only wasting our time when it is costing money to stay open,” he said.

Small steps
Mr Marley said that due to the current crisis, he is looking into installing solar panels on his roof to help produce electricity, but he added that there is no support to help businesses to do that at the moment. He also said that the solar panels will still not produce the electricity needed to keep a nursing home operating.
“An average house burns around 3,000 kilowatts a year, but we are burning 70,000 kilowatts – to produce that from solar panels you would nearly want a football pitch of them. You would be daft not to look at them though, and if they cover half our electricity requirements it will be something,” he explained.
Mr Marley said that reducing the heat in nursing homes is not a real option and over the next few months, and so they will have to look at the ‘small things’ to reduce their costs.
“What we are trying to do is to be more economical with electricity and ensure lights are turned off, and where it hasn’t been done already to switch as quickly to LED bulbs. We have to be smarter in how we use [electricity]. The beds still have to be plugged in and washing machines will have to run and dinners have to be cooked, but it’s about being smarter and not having lights on all day in bedrooms when there is nobody in them, and things like that.”