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'There's no prospect of my brother improving, he can't be moved into community living'

Some families of residents at Áras Attracta in Mayo fear the facility will be closed down.

FAMILIES OF RESIDENTS in Áras Attracta, a residential respite and day service for adults with intellectual disabilities in Co Mayo, are concerned about plans to potentially move their loved ones from the home.

Earlier this year the HSE said it was “accelerating … plans to move from an institutional model of care to a community-based, person-centred model of service, enabling and supporting meaningful lives as chosen by users, within the resources available”.

hse Source: HSE

The future of Áras Attracta in Swinford is currently under review, with speculation it is to be closed down in the coming years.

The facility came into the spotlight in December 2014, when RTÉ aired hidden camera footage of vulnerable people at the centre being force-fed and physically abused.

The HSE has previously denied the facility is closing down, but residents are being assessed to see who may be better off living in the community.

Tom Ward’s brother Jim has lived in the facility for about 26 years. He is profoundly physically and intellectually disabled, and needs constant care.

“He can’t speak or communicate. As far as we know he doesn’t understand or has no way of indicating if he does,” Tom said.

He and his mother Brid fought a public campaign in the late ’80s and early ’90s to secure residential care for Jim, who is now 43 years old.

Tom told TheJournal.ie that while living in the community might benefit some residents, it is simply not an option for his brother.

“Some people in Áras might do very well in the community, some residents are much more capable.

“No matter how fantastic they paint community living, there’s no prospect of my brother’s condition improving. It will disimprove as he gets older.”

Jim-Ward_Birthday_Aras-Attracta Jim Ward celebrating his birthday Source: Tom Ward

Tom said that Jim has access to everything he needs at Áras Attracta, including a hydrotherapy pool – something Tom described as his brother’s only pleasure in life.

We all know about the scandals that have been made public … Jim has never had anything but the utmost care and respect and love from the staff looking after him.

Tom said the main issues at the facility are cutbacks in terms of resources and staff. He believes it would be a waste to close the facility or scale it down as it was purpose-built and is of a higher standard than other similar centres.

“There are some institutions that need to close down, Áras Attracta is not one of them,” Tom said, adding that some other facilities are not fit for purpose and “little more than prison barracks”.

Tom and Brid have written to the HSE and Department of Health about their concerns, but Tom said they have not received direct answers to many of their questions about specific aspects of Jim’s future care.

In a letter sent from the HSE to Brid last month, and seen by TheJournal.ie, she was told that people “live better, more meaningful lives in their communities with the necessary supports to meet their needs”.

The letter told her that a “transition team … will work with individuals and their families to establish the best possible life for the person on their transition to the community”.

He said his mother (86) “thought her worries about Jim were over”, but is now very concerned about his future, adding: “She will do anything she believes will help Jim.

She is a very mild, timid woman. She will be affected and frightened, but if she takes a stance on Jim she won’t be budged.

HSE

A spokesperson for the HSE sent us the following statement: “We are in the process of a service improvement plan moving from an institutional model of care to a community based model of support.

“This will be an innovative model of integrated community support networks that promote dignity, respect, empowerment, choice and autonomy for people with intellectual disabilities.”

The statement added that the HSE and staff at Áras Attracta are “fully engaged” with the move away from congregated settings, and a family forum on the subject has been in place since September 2015.

16/5/2016 National Kidney Transplant Units Finian McGrath, Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities

The spokesperson noted that, at present, 90 people avail of full-time residential services at Áras Attracta, with an additional eight people availing of respite services and a further 15 individuals availing of day services.

They said that all people living at Áras Attracta “participated in an assessment process to determine their specific support needs”.

The assessments were shared with each individual and/or family member to outline the level of support required to live in the community.

“People living at Áras Attracta have historically lived in an institutional model of care and will need support and assistance to transition to a social care model of support. The goal is to empower people to have an enhanced quality of life and to establish a more positive living environment. People will exercise choice in where they live and with whom.”

The statement said that, in the first year of the transition process, 27 people are moving “to homes of their choosing in the local communities”.

It added that any families who are “fearful of community living” will be supported “as we progress with the implementation of the decongregation policy”.

We will of course respect each person’s wishes and preference and nobody will be forced into any arrangement that is not consistent with their wishes.

The spokesperson said that easy-to-read documents were developed ”to help keep residents better informed about changes happening at Áras Attracta”.

It noted that while these documents “generally contain an acknowledgement form to ensure that residents have received the information”, it is “not a consent form and is not intended to be such”.

Review of services 

Michael Fitzmaurice, independent TD for Roscommon/Galway, weighed in on the subject of de-congregation of residential care centres recently, saying the policy “needs to be stopped until a detailed review of services available in the community is carried out”.

4/4/2016 Talks on Forming a New Government Michael Fitzmaurice Source: RollingNews.ie

“At the moment a policy of de-congregation of residents who are in care centres and who have learning and intellectual disabilities is being followed.

“And while a move into the community may be beneficial for many of these patients, there are others, especially those who have more severe disabilities, who may not have access to the services that they are used to if they are moved out into the community,” Fitzmaurice said.

Minister of State with responsibility for disability Finian McGrath told us he is “fully supportive” of the move away from from congregated settings.

I want to assure any concerned family members that the process of moving a person with disabilities out of a congregated setting will be a supportive one. This transition will not happen overnight and each person’s wishes will be respected.

“The HSE has put in place comprehensive transition plans, which includes extensive engagement with the person themselves, their families, carers and advocates, as well as the service provider, to ensure successful and sustainable transitions into the community.

“These transition plans also identify what resources are required to support the person in moving out of a congregated setting – funding, equipment, community resources, circles of support, and staff skill sets.”

He added that he has not yet seen a letter sent to him from Brid, he is “happy to respond to any concerns expressed” by her.

Read: Did you miss the RTÉ care home exposé? Here’s what happened

Read: Investigation underway after resident dies at Áras Attracta centre

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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