Dr Denis Keating
Dr Denis Keating, who was the first Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine in St Vincent’s University Hospital and fourth appointed Geriatrician in this country, died in Dublin on 5th of July, 2023 at the age of 88 years. A quiet and unassuming gentleman, he was passionate about promoting Geriatric Medicine and the needs of older persons. The large number of messages and comments by colleagues and others attest to an individual who inspired and touched the lives of many in a unique way.
Like all the great physicians in geriatric medicine, he was an excellent clinician. One recalls on ward round in St Vincent’s University Hospital, Denis having a conversation with a patient with severe hypophonia. It has been assumed by many that the patient was non-communitive due to end stage Parkinson’s Disease. However Denis, by kneeling down and bending his ear close to the patient’s mouth was able to hear and understand the patients concerns. On another occasion, in an agitated patient with dementia, Denis noted that his eye was slightly red and despite it being a weekend, immediately insisted and organized an ophthalmology review. This confirmed the presence of acute glaucoma which was swiftly managed, his agitation settled and his eyesight was saved.
On his own admission, time keeping and organizational skills were not his strong point. Despite this he was wonderfully effective at developing geriatric services in South East Dublin and East Wicklow. When he assumed his post as the first Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine in St Vincent’s University Hospital in January 1975, there were no dedicated acute assessment and rehabilitation facilities for older people despite the area having a very high concentration of persons over 65 years. In 1976, he was instrumental in getting the Department of Health to design and build a state of the art 28 bedded unit (Our Lady’s Ward) for older persons on the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus at a time when public money was very scarce and there was little support from the medical establishment for geriatric medicine. Ironically, so well-appointed was the unit that it became the most popular ward with patients and staff in the hospital.
Similarly he cooperated with the Eastern Health Board (EHB) in developing services for older persons in St Columcille’s Hospital, St Colman’s Rathdrum, Wicklow Hospital together with welfare homes in Clonskeagh and Bray despite most consultants in voluntary hospitals distancing themselves from the Eastern Health Board whom they perceived as being inefficient and having a socialist ethos. He was also involved in negotiating the development of a dedicated rehabilitation unit and day hospital in the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook which was staffed and run by the Consultant Geriatrician and NCHDs from St Vincent’s University Hospital. Denis’s unthreatening, empathic and respectful personality was a major factor in getting two institutions with such long and different traditions to agree to such a novel arrangement.
In all of these services he created a very caring and patient orientated environment and promoted the principles of multidisciplinary care. This proved to be very popular with doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals and inspired many medical students and doctors to pursue a career in geriatric medicine. His tea, coffee and cakes at the weekly MDT meetings were legendary.
At a national level, he was a founding member of the Irish Society of Physicians in Geriatric Medicine in 1979 and served as President of the Irish Gerontological Society.
In all these endeavors, he received remarkable secretarial and organizational support from Ms Lorraine Murray in St Vincent’s University Hospital. On retiring in 1999; he was succeeded by Dr Diarmuid O’ Shea with whom he had an excellent relationship.
Denis was born in Dublin in 1934 and was an only boy with five sisters. He attended Terenure College where he clearly studied classics. On ward rounds he regularly asked the NCHD or nurse how old was the patient in Latin!!!! “aetas?”. He spent his last two years of school as a boarder in Roscrea and credits the Cistercian monks as instilling in him a caring and Christian ethos which he would later put into practice as a geriatrician. He graduated from University College Dublin and St Vincent’s University Hospital in medicine in 1958. Following hospital posts in Dublin, Limerick and Cork, he went to the UK where he worked with some of the giants of Geriatric Medicine including Professor Bernard Isaacs in Birmingham. After a brief period in Oxford, he was appointed in 1973 as Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine with Dr Jacques Noel to the evolving North Dublin geriatric service based at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park, Richmond and Connolly Hospital. In 1975, he transferred to his alma mater at St Vincent’s University Hospital and the rest is history.
Outside medicine he had a keen interest in music and regularly attended the Wexford Opera Festival. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and constantly amazed people with his accuracy on facts and dates related with a casual unassertive air.
He was very close to his sisters and beloved of this many nephews and nieces. In later years he had poor health. He is survived by his sister Frances who together with his carer Clarita supported him at home until his final illness.
He has left a lasting legacy with his family and friends, and also with the patients’ and their families whose path he crossed and with the many health care professionals who had the good fortune to meet and work with him.
May he rest in peace.
Ave atque vale.
Leaba i measc na naomh go raibh aige. Codhladh sámh,
Dr Morgan Crowe
Regius Rose Anne Kenny