Marking a milestone in offering support to those with brain injury

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABII) is celebrating its 21st Anniversary. Co-founder and CEO Barbara O’Connell tells us how they continue to provide support, hope and independence to 19,000 individuals that acquire a brain injury in Ireland every year
Marking a milestone in offering support to those with brain injury

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland Chief Executive and Co-Founder Barbara O’Connell with past and present residents of ‘Anvers’ in Glenageary Co Dublin, the original rehabilitation home. Picture: Mark Stedman

WHAT began as a single assisted living service, offering a supported home-from-home for three brain injury survivors, has since grown to serve 1,100 individuals and their families annually, including those with brain injuries acquired through falls, assaults, road traffic accidents, concussion and stroke.

Brain injury is a hidden phenomenon in our society. Nobody ever thinks it will happen to them, but it happens to 52 people in this country every day, often leaving them with a chronic and ongoing condition that can affect their lives and those of their family for months and years after the initial injury.

That is exactly what happened to my brother Peter, who was involved in two road traffic accidents and suffered two acquired brain injuries before the age of 42.

No longer able to live independently, and without access to any appropriate rehabilitation services at the time, Peter was transferred from acute care and inappropriately placed in a nursing home.

I am keen to highlight that, even now in Ireland, too often people who acquire brain injuries are young and left in inappropriate settings including nursing homes, acute hospitals or at home where families are unable to cope.

This is exactly the reason our organisation came into being 21 years ago: to take individuals with brain injury out of the nursing home system, to provide them with specialised neuro-rehabilitation within the community, and to give them back their lives.

The systemic, inappropriate confinement of young people in nursing home settings was highlighted recently in the Ombudsman’s ‘Wasted Lives’ report. According to ABII, the report provides evidence for and strengthens the case for urgent State investment in specialised neuro-rehabilitation, so that survivors of brain injury can regain their independence and reach their full potential.

Past and present residents of ‘Anvers’ in Glenageary Co Dublin, marking Acquired Brain Injury Ireland's 21st anniversary. Picture: Mark Stedman
Past and present residents of ‘Anvers’ in Glenageary Co Dublin, marking Acquired Brain Injury Ireland's 21st anniversary. Picture: Mark Stedman

For the past two decades, ABII has been working passionately to prevent unnecessary nursing home admissions, to advocate for the right to rehabilitation and the opportunity for all survivors of brain injury in Ireland to rebuild their lives’.

We are hopeful that this excellent report by the Ombudsman will urge our Government and our policy-makers to step up, address its recommendations, and invest in rehabilitation services that meet the needs of the individual, their families and our society.

Today, ABII is Ireland’s leading provider of clinically-led community rehabilitation for individuals with brain injury aged 18 to 65. 

In addition to operating 16 rehabilitation residences, the organisation provides a broad range of in-home community, day and vocational rehabilitation programmes alongside family supports in every province in the country.

Across the Cork and Kerry region the organisation has a specialist brain injury team including a Senior Occupational Therapist, Social Worker, Case Manager, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Rehabilitation Assistants and local management staff. Together they provide life-changing supports to 35 brain injury survivors across both counties.

Currently the service includes a residential home in Macroom where rehabilitation is available to five individuals on a 24/7 basis. Additional services are provided to brain injury survivors within their own homes and communities, individually or as part of a group, including vocational rehabilitation for those looking to return to work or education.

At Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, we know the difference it makes for individuals to have access to rehabilitation services in their own environment and in their own communities as they work to rebuild their lives.

This was particularly important for the organisation since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Determined not to see the rehabilitation journey paused for those engaged in the service, ABII adapted and even extended its services and its reach.

Across Cork and Kerry, the organisation continued serving each and every client in the county by coming up with creative rehabilitation responses in compliance with government guidelines. That included innovations like telephone and virtual rehabilitation, virtual support groups, work packs posted to clients to exercise their cognitive skills, and providing technical support to ensure they could connect with their families and friends remotely. Supported by ongoing funding through the HSE, ABII continues to work in communities across Ireland to support and empower people to rebuild their lives where they live. The organisation also campaigns, educates and advocates the rights and needs of this hidden group in society. In light of the ‘Wasted Lives’ report, we have a long way to go.

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