Families plead with HSE to keep mental health facility open for vulnerable patients

Mary says Anna experienced considerable pain in life before she managed to settle in to the centre.
Families plead with HSE to keep mental health facility open for vulnerable patients

Olivia Kelleher

Families who are pleading with the HSE to keep a mental health facility in Midleton, Co Cork open say that their loved ones are being ripped away from everything they know with many patients having lived onsite for decades.

Mary Hurley from Cobh is a sister to Anna (60) who has spent over twenty-five years in the Owenacurra Centre.

Mary says Anna experienced considerable pain in life before she managed to settle in to the centre.

“Before she was in Owenacurra she was a patient in a closed ward and all of the memories of that have come flooding back to me with the talk of closure.

“The move to Owenacurra was huge. She feels safe, and she has found her feet and has made connections over the last two decades.

“This is her life. It hasn't been an easy life, but she has made a life in the centre. They are a vulnerable group. They don't speak up for themselves.”

Stroke of a pen

Mary says life was torturous for Anna prior to her making a home and friends in Owenacurra in a settling in process which took years as opposed to months.

“In one fell swoop and with the stroke of a pen in June we were told the centre was closing at the end of October.

“It took Anna years to settle in and to develop her confidence enough to talk to the people around her. To feel at ease enough to join in a group.

“Anna has friends in the unit. People she cares about and who care for her. There is a very good caring ethos there.

“She had breast cancer, and they were so good to her. As they were around Covid. The staff are exemplary and the centre is giving residents a very good quality of life.”

Mary Hurley and her sister Anna Hurley on the grounds of Owenacurra.

Mary feels the closure of the centre will be like “a bomb going off” in life of her sibling,

“I am trying to advocate for Anna. The outcome of this is going to have such a long term impact on her life,” she said.

“The building is old fashioned but there is nothing imminent or urgent in terms of having to move patients for their safety. They could take remedial steps, or they could rebuild the building.

“There are 19 people in Owenacurra many of them who have been there a long time. It is their home and their family. These are people who have enduring mental health difficulties. The psychological impact will be huge. It is shocking and brutal and so upsetting.”

Life-saving

Meanwhile, Maureen O'Sullivan from Galway says her brother has spent ten of the happiest years of his life at the 24 bed facility following decades of enduring mental health difficulties.

She maintains Owenacurra has saved the life of her sibling.

“The residents don't care about getting a room that is a centimetre bigger. They don't want their service and home taken away from them. This is utterly shambolic,” Ms O'Sullivan said.

“The centre has saved my brother's life. My brother is 57. He was diagnosed with enduring mental difficulties at 22.

“When we found Owenacurra ten years ago he made friends. It has been the happiest decade of his life.

“These are things that outsiders wouldn't appreciate. But they have five meals and snacks every day. People to talk who understand.

“The centre did save my brother's life. This home is being ripped away from him in a callous, cruel manner. It is unforgivable.”

Heart-breaking

Maureen says it breaks her heart to think of her brother being taken from a centre which is in the middle of Middleton town.

“It is going back to the 18th century where we locked these people up and kept them away from sight,” she said.

“What is unique about Owenacurra is that people are out in the community and living their best lives. I thought the days of institutionalised care were gone.

“The building is iconic. It is opposite the market. Everyone sees it. There is no shame. The idea of shutting it down is so hard to understand.”

Impact on service users

Local Green Party Councillor, Liam Quaide, says that dismantling the services provided by the Owenacurra Centre will not just impact significantly on the current residents but on all future service-users across a vast catchment area.

“These people have the highest level of need of any who are attending our mental health services,” Mr Quaide commented.

“The MHC is strongly critical of ‘out of area’ placements, and has pointed to the UK where this practice has been shown to have poor outcomes for service-users. ‘Out of area’ placements dislocate service-users from their communities, disrupt their therapeutic alliances and end up costing services more in the long-term.”

“Every Adult Mental Health team has a small percentage of service-users who are not able to live independently and who can only attain a decent quality of life with specialist placement and intensive therapeutic support.

“The Owenacurra Centre has been an excellent example of such a service,” he added.

“The Community Mental Health teams of Midleton/Youghal and Cobh/Glenville will come under increasing strain if the Owenacurra Centre is closed.”

Full refurbishment

In a statement Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said that their original plan for the centre was to carry out a full refurbishment.

“However, once planning work for this refurbishment began, we established that refurbishment would effectively mean demolishing the building,” the statement said.

“We also established that even this level of refurbishment would not guarantee that the building would meet building requirements or be regarded as fit for purpose.

“We sincerely regret the fact that the centre needs to close, and in particular we acknowledge and regret the disruption for the 19 residents.

“We recently confirmed that the process of finding the most appropriate alternative placements for all residents of the Owenacurra Centre will continue for several more months.

“While some residents will be ready to move from the centre shortly, our priority is to make sure that we identify the most suitable placement for each individual resident based on their assessed needs and preferences.”

The healthcare provider has said the initial timeframe was to complete the process by October 31st, however it was extended to find more appropriate placements.

The statement also said the healthcare provider will continue to engage with residents and their loved ones as the process continues.

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