The HSE say purchase of a property in Midleton to help replace mental health services currently offered by Owenacurra is “imminent”, with appraisals for the construction of a new 10-bed residential facility in the town also in the pipeline.
A decision was taken to close the Owenacurra Centre in Midleton last June, as the HSE deemed the building no longer fit for purpose.
The proposed closure has been met with stiff opposition from families of residents who are currently receiving care in the centre for significant mental health challenges.
While 11 of the 19 residents of the centre have been moved to alternative facilities in Cork, others continue to fight to have the centre refurbished and remain resident there.
Speaking before the Oireachtas Public Petitions Committee on Thursday, Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare, Michael Fitzgerald said that there is “no way to bring the centre to a standard where it would be fit for purpose at a realistic cost”.
Mr Fitzgerald outlined the latest developments in providing alternative mental health services to the people of Midleton and East Cork, saying that at least one rehabilitation focused community residence will be provided in the town for three or four residents, with 24-hour staffing.
Alan O’Connell, Assistant National Director of HSE Estates, said that purchase of this residence is “imminent”, with a property identified and price agreed, subject to the approval of the National Property Review Group.
Mr Fitzgerald also said that the HSE will provide a new 10-bed rehabilitative focused residential unit in Midleton town, with the Owenacurra site amongst locations being considered.
He said that the HSE will be proceeding with an options appraisal to determine an appropriate site for the unit.
Green Party city councillor Liam Quaide said that while there is “obvious appeal” to the proposed 10-bed facility, there is no plan for those in East Cork who need long-stay placement in the intervening years before it is built.
“It is clinically indefensible for the HSE to take up the foundations of a service that is working exceptionally well and to disperse vulnerable people to ‘out of area’ ward-based facilities,” he said.
Sinn Féin TD for East Cork Pat Buckley said that the 10-bed unit was a “pie in the sky” that might not materialise for a “very, very long time”.
Mr Buckley said that the wards residents are moving to in the meantime in St Finbarr’s Hospital and St Stephen’s Hospital are even less compliant than the centre being closed down for compliancy issues.
“Basically it's like saying we're going to take them out of the hotel room and we're going to put them into the mobile home,” he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said that if they had perfectly complaint accommodation for Owenacurra residents close by it would be “helpful”. He added that while the wards residents are being relocated to may not be better, they are appropriate to meet their particular clinical needs.
Mr Fitzgerald said that the rehabilitation focused 10-bed unit and community residence, along with other services such as home base treatment teams, will progress mental health care away from institutions and towards more independent living.
“I think we need to start talking in a positive way about the future service that can and will be achieved in Midleton and I think we have to embrace that. It might be different to begin with… but it certainly has the capacity to support people to support themselves and maintain wellness as long as possible,” he added.