A CARE home owner who has seen a third of his workforce struck down with coronavirus has told of his despair as he battles to protect carers and residents after suffering losses of £100,000.

Richard Nicholas, who owns Emral House Nursing Home in Wrexham, said 23 of his 63 staff had tested positive for Covid-19 including seven of his 10 nurses while a resident recently admitted to hospital has also now tested positive for the disease.

Mr Nicholas, who is isolating at home after coming into contact with his manager who also tested positive, said it was the worst crisis to impact the home in 33 years and said he was desperately worried for residents and staff.

The 45-bed home, which has finally been able to arrange testing for all uninfected staff and residents this week, is currently operating at 78 per cent occupancy rate due to a number of natural deaths not currently linked to the disease and is unable to fill them until becoming virus-free for 28 days.

On top of the shortfall in income, the home is facing a huge agency bill for staff cover which will see costs rise by 30 per this month, pushing losses into the region of £100,000.

According to Mr Nicholas, the financial situation was becoming more precarious by the day and appealed to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to supplement NHS-funded nursing beds to help care providers mitigate the crisis.

He’s now backing a call from Care Forum Wales, which represents 450 social care providers, for an urgent national plan to ensure the survival of the sector.

The organisation has warned that up to half the care homes in Wales are under threat of closure thanks to a double whammy of soaring costs and plummeting occupancy levels.

Experts say a care home needs occupancy to stay above 90 per cent for it to remain economically viable.

Mr Nicholas said: “The past two weeks have been the most difficult in our 33-year history with the home largely being manned by agency nurses and carers, although the manager has now returned and some of our nurses will be returning shortly.

“Those of our own nurses and carers who have managed to avoid infection have been working 12-hour shifts for over a week now in full PPE and they are exhausted.

"I am desperately worried about them as they urgently need to be rested.

“When this is all over I am hoping to be able to reward all of these with extra payments.

"Our ability to do that however depends very much on our financial situation which is growing more precarious by the day.

“We are burning the candle at both ends with rapidly escalating costs using agency staff and a steadily reducing income as our residents pass away and with no hope of new admissions until this is all over.”

Richard said the home had reacted swiftly to pandemic, closing its doors to visitors on March 14 – almost a week before the national lockdown was announced on March 23 – and bringing forward refresher training for all staff on food safety, hand-washing and infection control.

The home also went to great lengths to secure additional providers of PPE as existing suppliers were finding items more difficult to source.

On April 18, the home received the news it was dreading after a night shift worker called to say both her and her husband were feeling terribly unwell. A few days later further reports of illness emerged.

Many of the staff, particularly nurses, are still recovering from the illness at home while the only resident to have been infected so far remains in hospital.

Care Forum Wales, which supports care homes, nursing homes and social care providers across Wales, has already warned care homes are on the brink of collapse putting the whole sector under threat.

Chair Mario Kreft MBE said: “Across Wales, care providers are struggling to cope with the massive and unprecedented pressures and costs of fighting this disease and it is a postcode lottery depending on where you are in the country as to who gets the help they need.

“To break even a typical care home needs to be operating at 90 per cent or more yet some are running as low as 50 per cent- the sums just do not add up.

“While we welcome the recent upscale in testing, too many care providers remain on the brink of collapse with no end to their current financial problems in sight. It is absolutely critical the future of our care homes and domiciliary providers are protected now - otherwise we will have a much bigger catastrophe on our hands."