Cllr. Irene Winters: “I am worried that vulnerable people are not seeking help”

By Irene Winters

I have a niggling worry that there are cocooning and vulnerable people who are in need but are not seeking help. I am worried that people are letting their own health concerns go unnoticed.

I knew when this all began that life in Ireland would change dramatically for everyone.

The first countrywide measures to help curtail the spread of the Coronavirus in Ireland were announced on the 12th March 2020: An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ordered the closure of all schools, colleges and childcare facilities until at least the 29th March 2020. Six weeks later, and each new announcement has brought further restrictions and tighter measures to protect our communities and the health service from being overwhelmed by the disease named COVID-19.

Each new measure has brought challenges and hardship but each new measure has also brought unbelievable resilience, kindness, and community support.

It’s not unusual for my mother and I to sit down in the living room to watch television together, but on the evening of Friday 27th March 2020, we sat down to await some of the most important news of our lives. I imagine the entire country felt the same. Leo Varadkar was about to reveal the plan to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Several categories of people were asked to cocoon for their own safety in their homes, with immediate effect. People of all ages with serious medical conditions such as organ transplant recipients, people with heart disease, COPD, or a compromised immune system had to stay in their own homes. People over 70 years of age, regardless of how good their health is, were also asked to ‘cocoon.’

My mother, who I live with, was hit hard by the news. She is an independent woman who likes to head out, meet her friends, and go about her day as she chooses. She recently described herself as feeling ‘useless’.

I ask you all to try and put yourself in their shoes for a moment, I know I’ve tried. All of these people need to shop for food, for medicine, for coal, gas, to go to the bank, and at 8.30pm on a Friday night, with no notice, they were now being asked to stay home for at least three weeks.

The following morning, Saturday 28th March the senior management team of Wicklow County Council met to put in place a means of aiding all the people now confined to home.

The council working with community and voluntary groups, alongside state agencies such as An Garda, HSE, Civil Defence established the Community Call and on Tuesday 31st March the supports were in place and the phone line was launched.

In the first few days the majority of the calls were from people asking to be registered as a volunteer, they wanted to help in their community and run messages for people isolated in their homes. East Coast FM were vital in spreading the word that help and support was available for people who were ‘stuck’ in their homes. Many of the people who need to use the service aren’t on social media and have limited or no access to the internet.

The free-phone number 1800 868 399 is operational 12 hours a day, 8am-8pm, 7 days a week and no task it too big or too small. Calls for assistance have come from all areas of the county both urban and rural.

People have needed medicines, fuel, food, pet food, newspapers. Some people have just needed a chat and for every need there is someone willing and eager to help.

A leaflet drop to every household in the county has spread the word and the contact details, but all the time I have a niggling worry that there are cocooning and vulnerable people who are in need but are not seeking help. I am worried that people are letting their own health concerns go unnoticed.

Maybe they feel their need is too small or they don’t want to trouble anyone, maybe despite our efforts they do not know that help is just a phone call away. I wish they knew how many volunteers we have who would love to be called on for even the smallest of tasks.

I know of another mother and daughter who, due to the daughter’s heroic frontline work, must remain separated. Perhaps until the crisis is over. I think of them and remember how lucky I am to be able to see my own mother.

For many over 70s, the fear of loneliness is very, very real.

I would ask that people reading this think about their own local area and people who they haven’t seen out walking or gardening. If you haven’t a telephone number to call them, write a note or print this article and pop it in their letterbox. Our community is willing and able to help all of our residents.

Cllr. Irene Winters is from Wicklow Town. She is currently a member of Wicklow County Council, having been elected as a Councillor in 2009, and subsequently in 2014 and 2019.

She was elected as Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council for the year 2019-20. Irene moved with her family to Wicklow in 1982, where she worked with her mum for 19 years in Wicklow Travel. Since closing her business in 2010, she has been a full-time public representative and a part-time student.

Irene was first elected to Wicklow Town Council in 2004 and had the honour of serving as Mayor of Wicklow Town from June 2009 to June 2010.

Outside of the Council, Irene is involved in the Wicklow and District Lions Club and is a Director and active volunteer with Wicklow Cancer Support Limited. Irene serves on the committee that created the Sailfest in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

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