Service cuts to Pieta House leave some of Cork's most vulnerable people at risk; staff let go and fears for Shanakiel centre

Service cuts to Pieta House leave some of Cork's most vulnerable people at risk; staff let go and fears for Shanakiel centre

SERVICE cuts in Pieta due to funding issues are leaving some of the most vulnerable people in Cork at risk, says a therapist in the service.

Pieta revealed recently that the service is managing a significant budget shortfall in 2020 of around €6.5m as a result of the loss of its Darkness into Light event.

Although more than €2m was raised over the weekend, between a broadcast appeal on The Late Late Show and people taking part in a Sunrise Appeal on Saturday, the suicide prevention service has been forced to implement several cost-cutting measures, including redundancies and salary reductions of up to 30% for all staff.

Pieta said that these measures are needed to ensure that the delivery of services to clients can be protected now, and over the long term.

However, staff in Cork have spoken of their fears for the future of the service and have expressed anger at the treatment by senior management of staff as well as vulnerable service users of Pieta House.

Speaking to The Echo, a therapist with the Cork service who did not wish to be named, said it looks to them that the Pieta House centre in Cork has effectively closed. This is something the organisation denies.

“There was currently 100 people a week attending Pieta House for support with regard to suicide ideation, self harm and bereavement,” the therapist said. “These services are now gone from Pieta House Cork, leaving the most vulnerable people in our society at risk of suicide and self harm, those who are already isolated due to the current crisis with this pandemic.

“The current situation for clients and staff of Pieta house looks very bleak for the future. Staff feel totally unsupported, unheard, and disrespected by the board of directors and senior management of Pieta House, and that they have now done irreversible damage to the organisation that so many vulnerable people and families depend on.”

The therapist argued that replacing Pieta House with a telephone service “must not be allowed to become the norm with regard to people in crisis”.

“If you can imagine working with a client who wants to die, it’s like walking on a cliff edge with someone so hurt that they can’t see another way of continuing with their life, and as a therapist you are there to encourage them to come off that cliff edge and walk with you to build a trusting relationship between each other, so that they are going to feel safe and stay safe, and that you are with them all of the way to catch them if they fall,” they said.

“I feel at this time that the board of directors at Pieta House headquarters in Dublin have shown total disregard, disrespect, and arrogance in the way they have treated their centre managers, staff, and clients who depend on this vital service.”

The therapist revealed staff are furious at the situation.

“All centre managers and clinical support staff nationally have been told that they have been let go from their positions,” they said.

“Therapist hours have been cut as well as therapists taking a 30% pay cut last month, and staff can also avail of a voluntary redundancy scheme. Compulsory redundancies will be required as a result of the restructuring of clinical services.”

The therapist revealed that staff were “totally taken by surprise” when this news was revealed by CEO Elaine Austin during a staff briefing on May 1.

“Staff were shocked to think that their manager, assistant manager and all clinical support staff were let go,” they said. “These people are the backbone of the therapy team and the first ones to meet the clients when presenting to Pieta House Cork.”

The therapist claimed that Pieta House management has not communicated well since the news broke.

“Pieta’s response has been one of silence for the past week, other than getting an email today to tell the staff not to engage with the media,” they said. “Staff have been phoning their regional manager to find out where they stand with regard to their jobs and their calls are not being answered.”

In a statement to The Echo, a spokesperson for Pieta House said: “Pieta can assure all its supporters and clients that it will continue to offer counselling services in Cork.

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