The HSE has spent over €1.6m on rent and cleaning costs at Garnish House since moving residents in at the start of the pandemic – the same valuation they were given when they decided not to purchase the property outright two years ago.
The HSE moved residents from a mental health facility at Millfield House, to the former bed and breakfast Garnish House in April 2020, as a temporary measure during the pandemic to provide more space and individual rooms for residents.
The HSE have since been paying €43,400 per month on rent and cleaning costs for Garnish House, which they decided to lease rather than purchase outright.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Oireachtas Committee on Thursday, Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Michael Fitzgerald confirmed that between €1.6m and €1.7m has been spent since April 2020.
He also confirmed that this is the same amount that the property was valued at if the HSE were to purchase it in 2020.
“We’re never sure what we could have bought it for, but we did get a valuation for it… Renovations alone we were considering would have been about €2.4 million, and the independent valuation that we got in July was €1.6 million,” he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said that there were a “number of different issues” with the property which led the HSE to decide against purchasing it at the beginning of the pandemic.
He said that access issues within the building and the cost of necessary refurbishments were dissuading factors, as well as the fact that the building was a flood risk, being situated on a flood plain on Western Road that experienced significant flooding in 2009.
“For all of those particular reasons, we didn’t even proceed towards the purchase of the centre,” he said.
Mr Fitzgerald acknowledged the high ongoing cost of the rental agreement, but said that the HSE “intend to be gone from the facility early next year - certainly by the end of quarter one of next year”, likely going back to Millfield House in the short term.
Catherine Murphy, TD for Kildare North, commented at the meeting that the HSE’s decisions around mental health services in the Cork area “seem very chaotic and inconsistent”, speaking about Garnish House and also the impending closure of the Owenacurra centre in Midleton.
TD for Dublin South Central Neasa Hourigan asked HSE chief Paul Reid whether he could stand behind the decision to close Owenacurra and move long term residents to other facilities in Cork.
She criticised a lack of transparency and seriousness in considering patient welfare, and likened the process to “moving people around like pieces on a chess board or monopoly”.
Mr Reid disagreed with the representation that residents were being moved around like chess pieces, and said he still “stands over the decision in relation to Owenacurra”.
“We are working with the families very thoroughly to find accommodations to meet their needs,” he said.
Speaking on his second last day in the role of HSE Chief Executive, Mr Reid also shared some parting words for his successor.
“It’s all about the services. We can’t ever forget, everything we do, every day, no matter what roles we’re in, is: are we adding value to the people who use these services? If we’re not adding value, we’re not doing our job,” he said.