CROWDS gathered on the northside of the city tonight for a vigil to highlight community opposition to the impending closure of a respite care residential centre for the elderly.
Staff members, elderly residents and members of the community have expressed their heartbreak at the proposed closure of Mount Cara, previously known as Cara House.
The care home which employs 24 currently has a total of 15 elderly residents.
The Board of Management has cited the challenges posed by Covid-19 and a reduction in occupancy as the main reasons for making the decision.
However, nurse at Mount Cara, Majella Lynch, says staff members have been given conflicting reasons as to why the facility is set to close.
"Initially we were first told about Cork City Council pulling funding, that was later retracted and we even got proof from Brian Geaney [Assistant Chief Executive at City Hall] that funding is still in place and hasn’t been cut," Ms Lynch said.
"It’s a proven fact that people want to come into Mount Cara – why close it?"
Staff have now been told that the HSE has decided that the building is not up to standards for the quality of care they require - a decision that has left staff members "dumbfounded".
"It makes no sense to us and we’re dumbfounded by it.
"Our HIQA report from January was outstanding and we have everything in place to keep them safe and it's evident that we have kept them safe," she said.
Ms Lynch said when one of the residents of Mount Cara was suspected of having Covid-19 due to a temperature, that staff immediately cordoned off a corridor, closed the doors and had one member of staff dedicated to treating the resident who showed no other symptoms of the virus.
"She was on a long backlog for testing, waiting for a week and a half to get tested and then for the results so she was in there for the guts of three to four weeks.
"She had no other symptoms but had underlying health conditions and was later confirmed positive but that lady made a full recovery," she said.
"In the HSE’s eyes, they want models that are a 100-bed plus. With the recent pandemic, they’re not viable," continued Ms Lynch, who added that residents enjoy the homely and personable feel of Mount Cara.
"We have people that come in for respite and end up staying longterm so it goes to show the atmosphere – people love it."
Ms Lynch said "it’s not about the staff’s jobs at the end of the day" but about the residents who are being forced to move from a safe space where they have made friendships to a more expensive facility that is further away from their community in the northside.
Paddy O'Brien, a well-known campaigner for older people in Cork, was in attendance at the vigil tonight.
He said the HSE must "act with compassion" and not close down Mount Cara.
"It's heartbreaking for the residents, their families and the staff," he said.
"The greatest problems facing elderly people is the lack of long term care and nursing homes.
"Instead of closing down places like Mount Cara House, it's opening places we need to be," he said.
Cork North Central Councillor Tony Fitzgerald said Mount Cara provides an exceptional level of care to its residents.
"It's a 'home from home' for people whether it’s for respite or residential.
"The uncertainty at the moment is very difficult for people," he said.
Mr Fitzgerald has been in contact with the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach's office to discuss the issue.
"I think collectively we can explore a number of options to ensure that any uncertainty that’s there for the families is examined in detail now that the challenge has been raised at national level," he continued.
Cork Council of Trade Unions president, Barry Murphy, was also at the vigil with his wife Josephine.
"We live in the area and we know what a service Cara House has been down through the years to the local residents and I just find it mind-boggling when hospitals are under pressure for beds that a facility like this could be closed," he said.
"It was funded by the residents in the area to get it going first day.
"I’m from St Mary’s Road and all of us supported it at the time to set it up for people.
"It was badly needed and still is," added Josephine.
Sinn Féin Councillor Mick Nugent said Mount Cara "means a lot to a lot of people in the community", as evidenced by the great turnout at the vigil.
Councillor Nugent said it has been a very stressful time for residents, their families and the staff members.
He said that the board has been in contact with families to look at accommodation alternatives, with "options as far away as Youghal".