Reflections on thirty-five years as a Home Help

Grace Doherty (90) presenting a bouquet of flowers to home help Sally McLaughlin following her last visit to her home at Ballymaghey, Fanad this week.

Grace Doherty (90) presenting a bouquet of flowers to home help Sally McLaughlin following her last visit to her home at Ballymaghey, Fanad this week.

GRACE Doherty’s bungalow enjoys fantastic views of Ballymagahey Lough and the surrounding countryside on the Fanad peninsula.
Now in her ninety-first year, Grace remains hale and hearty but she’s in need of help with day to day tasks.
For the past number of years, local woman Sally McLaughlin has been calling to her home – on occasions three times a day – to assist with dressing, bathing, feeding and meal preparation and, later in the evening, helping Grace back into bed.
Sally is a valued member of the Home Help Service which supports the needs of vulnerable people in the community in order to enable them to remain in their own home and to avoid going in to long-term care.
Next month, Sally will visit Grace for the last time before retiring from her post after 35 years serving the people of Fanad, Kerrykeel, Glencar and Glenalla.
Since taking up employment with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 1981, Sally has had more than 150 clients, all of them older people.
She’s shared good times with clients, the ‘odd’ row and attended with great sadness many of their funerals and wakes.
This week she recalled a time when some the homes she visited didn’t have electricity nor running water.
“Conditions have improved immeasurably over the years but, unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the Home Help Service,” Mrs McLaughlin said.
Having left school at thirteen, Sally (nee Clinton) worked in the nearly Portsalon Hotel before travelling to England and Scotland and then taking up employment with Thomas De la Rue, the world’s largest commercial banknote printer and passport manufacturer.
She married Rathmullan man Kevin McLaughlin in 1969 and the couple came back to Ireland in the late seventies with their daughters Noreen (Friel), Roisin and son Kevin.
When the Home Help Service was re-organised by Kathleen Callaghan in 1981, Sally was offered a job in the Fanad area.
‘We were the bottom of the ladder – the last port of call – but I honestly believe that there should be some proper professional qualifications today for Home Helps. If it takes a nurse four years to qualify, maybe there should be a two-year course for home helps,” she said.
Many older adults prefer to stay at home for as long as possible, relying on family members for help. But as circumstances change, Sally and the home care services team are there to help working in tandem with occupational therapists, social workers and the local public health nurse.
“There have been many, many funny moments and I’m sorry now that I didn’t write down some of the old sayings. We’re losing a language as the older generation die off. It’s really sad,” she said.
Sally has kept a diary for each one of her thirty five years in the job and she believes that there’s a book in many of the people she has worked with.
“I’ve looked after women who were hired out from an early age and others who suffered a lot of hardship in their lives. There’s also an awful lot of happy stories and it’s those that I will remember,” she said.
“I’m concerned that the service is becoming more and more privatised. When I started it wasn’t unusual to find your supervisor at a home when you arrived in the morning and we were thorough in everything we did.
“We would spend three quarters of an hour with a client in the morning to help them get us, washed and dressed, half an hour at lunch time and again half at hour at night. If they needed to go to the toilet and our allocated time was up we wouldn’t leave until they were settled once more.
“I’m hearing now that some people are in and out of a house in ten minutes. You can’t, in all honestly, provide any sort of proper service in that limited time. I’m concerned about the future of Home Helps who provide an invaluable service,” she said.
Sally often works alongside her sister and fellow Home Help Philomena Hetherington as it sometimes takes two people to get an older person organised each day.
“We have standards and it’s important that they’re not allowed to deteriorate. I want to be fully satisfied that the HSE have everything in place to make sure that Grace, my other four full-time clients as well as my weekend part-time clients are all well looked after when I retire.
“Apart from a Tuesday night (Ceili dancing) I’m out the other six nights of the week putting people to bed and making sure that they’re comfortable before returning home. It’s been a great journey and one that I’m a little sad is coming to an end,” she said.

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