Staff at a Cork nursing home which is set to close in January have experienced heartbreak this week as they saw their first resident reluctantly leave her "home away from home."
Cara House in Blackpool on the northside of Cork city opened over thirty years ago to meet the needs of the elderly in the community following the closure of the North Infirmary Hospital.
The board of management announced plans to shut the doors of the 25-bed facility last month. They attributed their decision to a reduction in occupancy at the facility and the challenges posed by Covid 19.
Calls were made for the HSE to take over the running of the site and vigils were being held every Wednesday night outside the facility.
Staff member Majella Lynch says that arising out of the new restrictions they have had no choice but to cancel their weekly vigils outside the home. Staff and the families of patients feel a certain helplessness, she says.
"We do have a stay until January but that is only a HIQA requirement," she said. "We have met with the board but there is nothing positive. It is daunting for people. They are afraid of what is going to happen.
"One woman left on Tuesday and she said it was her second time leaving her home. That she had left her own home and then her home here. We have set up an online petition and are asking people to sign."
Majella says staff are also concerned for their own future employment.
"One staff member has left and she had to quarantine for two weeks before she could start her new job. We can't afford to be out of work."
Majella says that Mount Cara would be a devastating loss to the community.
"At the start of lockdown we had a resident with a temperature but no other signs of Covid," she said. "We cordoned off the corridor. We took all the precautions. Did all the staff and patient testing. When she got her results back she was positive but made a full recovery.
"Why would you move people from a safe environment in the middle of a pandemic to larger nursing homes where they may not be as safe?"
Meanwhile, Mary Lynch, daughter of 100-year old Cara House resident Nora Murphy has described the idea of moving her mother to a different nursing home in the midst of a pandemic as "madness."
"I can't bear the idea of my mother being scared and I know she will be. If I am going to put her in a new home she is going to be terrified. This is going to affect her so much.
"My mother was born in this area and we all grew up here. With Covid-19 restrictions, we would have to just move her from Cara House and wheel her in the door of another facility and then wave goodbye.
"The government put protections in place for everybody and we all made sacrifices to protect each other but where is the protection for my mother and her friends?
"This is an immoral decision and it makes the residents feel as if they are not valued. My mother has value and she deserves better. It is heartbreaking."
Fred Richmond, whose 98 year old father Fred is a resident at Cara House, say that he will be devastated if the facility closes.
“My father Fred has been in there in a safe and secure environment.
They are proposing to remove him from that safe environment to a place where he knows no one. It’s a complete reversal of what we’ve been told we should do.
This isn’t just a physical move for the residents, it is an emotional home. For them this isn’t a care home, it is their home.We can’t see any justification for it.
Him maybe being moved off to a multi occupancy room with strangers. The effect that would have on the mental health of an elderly man.” Retired nurse Patricia Donovan whose elderly sister has been a resident at Cara House for 11 years says that she has contacted five nursing homes who are all 'polite' but non committal.
"This was done with indecent haste. I can't say enough good things about Cara House both psychologically and in looking after people. "
Thomas Gould, Sinn Fein TD for Cork-North Central is calling for the HSE to intervene and to take over the facility.
"People should be cared for in their own communities and these residents have made Cara House their home. The staff and other residents are like family to them and it would be a disgrace if the HSE allow this to close."
The home currently has 14 residents. Staff maintain that the finances onsite are in good shape. The facility was recently in receipt of a positive HIQA report.
In a statement the Management Board said the decision to close was not made lightly.
“As a Board we have taken the hard decision to begin the process of winding down Mount Cara in a planned format.
All staff have been fully briefed of the situation. We have also been in contact with all residents’ families and will continue to keep them informed as timelines are finalised.
The new challenges posed by Covid-19, along with the reduction in occupancy have led to this decision. Mount Cara is a residential facility for older people and although it complies with Nursing Home Standards, it is not covered by the Fair Deal Scheme for residents.
The increased provision of sheltered housing, home care packages and home help supports have also impacted on the demand for Mount Cara services.
The Board is in discussion with the HSE about the future placements of residents.
We are committed to working with all stakeholders over the next few months during this process."
The HSE says that they will be working with the residents to see if any HSE Cork/Kerry Community Healthcare facilities may meet their needs.
"Any move to a new setting will take place over the next few months, and in consultation with residents."
Cara House was established by the late Bishop Michael Murphy. It is run by a board of management that is separate from the Diocese of Cork and Ross.
Local Community activist Paddy O'Brien says that the shortage of nursing homes nationwide is now so acute that families search death notices to acertain if any deaths have occurred in facilities.