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HSE has no 'specific plans' for site of Cork mental health care centre due to close next month

The Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, which houses 19 residents, is set to close in October.

Owenaccura Centre, Midleton
Owenaccura Centre, Midleton
Image: Google Maps

THE HSE HAS no “specific plans” for the site of a mental health care centre in Cork that is due to close next month.

HSE representatives are appearing before the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Mental Health this afternoon to face questions on the planned closure of Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, which currently houses 19 residents.

The centre is the only facility of its kind in east Cork that provides long-term residential and respite care for people with severe mental health difficulties. It also provides day services for residents and local clients.

Residents’ families were told at the end of June that the centre was to be closed on a phased basis, sparking concerns and discontent in the local community.

Cathaoirleach of the Committee Senator Frances Black said that the planned closure is causing “considerable concern for the families involved and mental health advocates”.

“There are real fears about the broader impact this proposed closure would have on mental health service provision in East Cork,” Black said.

Speaking to the committee, Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Michael Fitzgerald said that the team operating the site had aimed to refurbish the building and was “acutely aware the current building simply did not allow for the kind of care and recovery which a modern service should provide”.

He said that “unfortunately, as we moved to the advanced planning phase for the centre, serious concerns emerged that any level of refurbishment could not bring the building to the standards required”.

“Advice from construction experts has led the HSE to take the difficult but necessary decision to close the centre,” Fitzgerald said.

“We’ve reviewed all options for the centre and every option involves the complete demolition of the existing building rather than a phased refurbishment,” he said.

Fitzgerald told the committee that the centre is working with residents and their families to agree appropriate alternative places and will be moved on a phased basis.

“Assessments with residents have been completed and consultation with families is underway at present,” he said.

“The site will be reviewed by Cork Area community healthcare organisation to confirm what healthcare services are required in the area so as to maximise the use of the site to the benefit of the opening public a mental health day service is located within the building.

“Services in the day centre have been affected due to Covid-19. Work is underway to identify an alternative location for this service as close as possible to the current location and to recommence the service as soon as possible.

“We haven’t specific plans for the site. We certainly recognise [its] value. We will certainly be looking at the healthcare needs of the area and to identify any particular needs that would be there which would be well served with some development on that site.”

He said the team has not undertaken a valuation of the site.

Cork East TD Seán Sherlock said that the closure should be halted to allow further time to examine the decision to shut it.

There needs to be a “pause” put on the closure “in the public interest and so that we as public representatives have more time to interrogate line-by-line everything that you’re doing so that we can fully, and with good conscience, represent our constituents who are deeply concerned about this matter,” Sherlock said.

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The Mental Health Commission has said the HSE informed it about the plans to close the facility shortly before a planned inspection of the centre in June.

The commission had conducted an annual inspection in the centre in February where it found it to have “critical and high-risk ratings” in several areas, including small and cluttered bedrooms, fire doors wedged open, and the absence of an occupational therapist.

It was unsatisfied with the HSE’s response and decided to conduct a second, focused inspection that would ascertain what works had been done to address fire safety issues, ligature anchor points, and whether there was an improvement in access to therapeutic services and programmes.

When the MHC told the HSE it was considering further escalation unless corrective measures were enacted, the HSE said it planned to close the centre, the commission said.

In a statement, the commission’s Inspector of Mental Health Services Dr Susan Finnerty said that it was “clear from the annual inspection – and reinforced by the focused inspection – that Owenacurra had a number of failings that we pointed out and which we were very concerned about”.

Dr Finnerty said that “even before the HSE informed us that the centre was to be closed, it was clear that in its current state – with 14 bedrooms being served by just two bathrooms – that it could not be part of a modern mental health service unless major refurbishment had taken place”.

“In addition to both inspections this year, there has been a pattern of non-compliance with regulations by this centre over several years,” she said.

“Previous inspections have identified that the centre has been found to be non-compliant with other key regulations, including staffing and individual care plans.”

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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