Residents of the Owenacurra Centre in Midleton and their family members have delivered a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s Cork office, reminding him they are “not gone away”.
Residents are calling for the centre not to be closed and are now asking the Taoiseach to listen to the reasons why the centre should not be shut.
It comes following a decision to close the centre which was made in June of last year and was followed by a public hearing on the issue in December 2021.
Last month, a meeting between the HSE and a delegation of the Oireachtas Health Committee took place at the Owenacurra site where the Committee was briefed by the HSE on the necessity to close the centre.
Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CKCH) management informed those present that the decision to close the centre remained unchanged.
However, the delegation of the Committee found that the centre would be fit for the purpose following some renovation work.
Earlier this month, the Joint Committee on Health wrote to the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler, calling on her to reverse the decision as a matter of urgency as it is “in contravention of the Sharing the Vision policy which seeks to locate mental health services within communities”.
Speaking about the handing over of the letter, which was signed by all residents, to the Taoiseach’s office, family member Mary Hurley said that residents are now appealing to Micheál Martin to “listen to them”.
They’ve been consistent in their message from the beginning, they want to stay where they are and remain in the centre so they wanted to bring that home and to get the Taoiseach to listen.
“The Oireachtas Health Committee came down and they met with residents and family members and staff and went around to look at the centre, and having done all of that concluded that the service in Owenacurra could be retained and was not beyond salvaging if there was an appetite to take on repairs so that’s what we want the Taoiseach to do is to listen to the committee.”
She said that while the family members are fighting for their own relatives, they are also thinking of the many others in East Cork who may need to avail of the vital service.
We’re talking about our family members at the moment but the service in Owenacurra is the service for all of East Cork and the idea that this would be shut down because some administrator has no regard for the service it's providing.
“The respite side of it too, people coming to the centre for respite and it’s vital for people who are suffering and struggling,” she said.
She said that one of the things that struck her on Friday was that the residents were “well able to articulate what they needed to say” and hand the letter over to administrative staff.
Ms Hurley described it as “empowering” to see people who are often “silenced and hidden” speak up for what they believe in.
Speaking to The Echo, a second family member Maureen O’Sullivan, whose brother was in attendance on Friday, said that they also wanted to express their “displeasure” that Minister Mary Butler had been silent for three weeks after receiving the letter from the Joint Committee on Health.
However, releasing a statement on Friday afternoon, the Minister said that the decision to transfer services from this centre “was not taken lightly” and follows “serious concerns raised by the Mental Health Commission through their inspection process”.
“From the outset, the will and preference of the residents of the Owenacurra Centre have been paramount in all decisions and actions taken by the HSE. I am satisfied that the decisions arrived at were made with best interests of the residents in mind, both from a health and safety viewpoint and from the provision of appropriate treatments. The support and engagement of staff tasked with delivering the services is also of critical importance and central to decisions arrived at.”
She said that while the original plan was to refurbish the centre, it “became clear that refurbishment would effectively mean demolishing the building” following two independent reports which supported this position.
As the independent regulator, the Mental Health Commission in its recent inspection reports found that the premises at Owenacurra were not up to the required standard and identified two critical risks (in relation to premises and access to therapeutic services and programmes) and three high risks. The matters raised by the Mental Health Commission meant that it was not appropriate or viable for the centre to continue operating.
She said that residents are moving “on a phased basis”, with two residents’ current assessed needs for nursing home care and the nine remaining residents' assessed needs indicating a reduced care need which she said could be met in a community residence with rehabilitative support.
She confirmed in her statement that the HSE “are currently sourcing a property and have located a detached house that has been identified as suitable in terms of layout size and location in the area”.
Minister Butler said the HSE has responsibility for delivery of mental health services and it would be “inappropriate” for her or her Department to interfere, but that she will “regularly engage with the HSE” to receive updates on the transfer of the remaining 11 residents.