Bruises and abrasions found on the body of an elderly patient at an “understaffed” ward University Hospital Limerick (UHL), could not be explained, an inquest at Limerick Coroner’s Court has heard.

Michael Power, (85), Uregar, Kilmallock, was found unresponsive by a nurse in his single room on ward 8C, at around 10.30am, on March 13th, 2021.

He had not been physically checked by staff for over an hour despite being admitted to the ward on March 5th, seriously ill, with laboured breathing and a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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Staff noticed abrasions and bruising to Mr Power’s head and body, when he was found unresponsive in his room, however this was only flagged as concerning by an undertaker who alerted Mr Power’s family, which in turn delayed his funeral and a post mortem was conducted.

Mr power’s family acquired his medical notes as well as cctv footage of ward 8C from the morning of his death.

The cctv footage revealed the father of four had taken an “assisted fall” near the ward’s nurses station at 6.30am, however the fall was not documented, and Mr Power’s family had not been not informed.

Staff gave evidence they were “short of staff” and under pressure trying to monitor and care for 20 patients on the 20-single-room ward, which was designated a Covid-19 ward in what were “difficult” times.

There was one healthcare assistant (HCA) on the ward, and nurses had requested an extra HCA give Mr Power one-to-one care in his but none were available.

Under cross examination by John Monaghan BL, counsel for the Power family, instructed by solicitor Bill O’Donnell, the HCA who was on duty on the ward that morning replied that she “absolutely, yes” could have used additional HCA resources, and she could have spent more time with Mr Power that if she had had “less patients” to help look after o the morning.

Michael Power (85), Uregar, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, who died at University Hospital Limerick on March 13, 2021. His inquest heard bruises to his body could not be explained and that prior to his death he suffered an assisted fall at the hospital which was not documented by staff and his family were not notified.
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Staff said Mr Power’s condition had improved throughout the previous few days but on March 12th he appeared confused and was frequently removing a face mask that was supplying him with a “significant” volume remained of oxygen.

He was checked by a nurse at 9.15am but he was not physically checked again until 10.21am when was found to be unresponsive and pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

While it was accepted that Mr Power was not physically checked during this period of time, counsel for the HSE, Denise Mulcahy BL instructed by Karen Watret, Doyle Solicitors, said staff were able to visually monitor Mr Power and his oxygen levels, as they were passing his room by looking at him through a glass window.

A post mortem on March 16th determined Mr Power, who was pre-deceased by his wife Claire Power, died as a result of sudden cardiorespiratory failure along with severe restrictive pulmonary disease.

A pathologist who gave evidence about the post mortem but who did not perform the autopsy confirmed the abrasions on Mr Power’s body, including a 21x4cm laceration to his lateral chest, a 13x6cm bruise to the right side of his temple, as well as bruising on his right shoulder and arm, back and left arm were “not life threatening” and “could not be connected” to his death.

The pathologist told Mr Monaghan that he could not say for sure if Mr Power’s bruising was due to one or a number of falls but that either scenario was “possible”.

Ms Mulcahy, acting for the HSE, said photographs of Mr Power’s injuries, which were shown to the coroner, had been taken two days after death, and she noted that the pathologist witness had stated that bruising in elderly people is often not always immediately visible.

In her submission to the court Ms Mulcahy said the cause of death was acute cardiorespiratory failure.

Limerick Coroner, John McNamara, said he accepted there had been “communications failings clearly” in the case and he returned a “narrative verdict”.

“People can point to Covid, but the Power family should have been notified and kept in the loop about their father’s care - no two ways about it,” Mr McNamara said.

John Monaghan said the Power family “remain upset that in their father’s final hours he didn't get one-to-one care, they didn't get to say goodbye, nor were they forewarned of his condition deteriorating”.

He said the family’s “tremendous shock” at suddenly learning about their father’s death was “exacerbated by bruises that were not explained, and they remain upset at the lack of clarity and transparency of their father’s care”.

Joe Power, a son of the deceased, said: “We are confident our father’s death could have been avoided, and, UHL has failed to adequately account for our father’s death”.

In his undisputed deposition to the court Mr Power said it was “most unsatisfactory” that none of his family were asked to be involved in a UHL internal investigation into his father’s death and that “the panel of investigation never even looked at the photos of bruising on our father’s body”.

He said UHL’s complaint procedure in relation to their father’s case had been “discontinued twice” and the “inquest delayed by the HSE”.

“Michael Power was a good father, a good husband and a good grandfather, and his bruising was only discovered by an undertaker who retuned his body for a post mortem,” Mr Power said.

“Michael Power deserved better than that, we deserve better than that, the people who attend UHL deserve better than that,” he concluded.

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