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'People are devastated': St John of God to hand over services to HSE due to 'underfunding crisis'

SJOG currently provides intellectual disability and mental health services to over 8,000 people.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/BlurryMe

SAINT JOHN OF God (SJOG) Community Services has announced it plans to end its service arrangement with the Health Service Executive and to transfer responsibility for the operation of its services directly to the HSE over the next 12 months.

SJOG, which will cease its involvement in the provision of these services by 1 October 2021, said it made the decision “with deep regret” and “due to a protracted and unresolved systemic underfunding crisis that had undermined the organisation for over a decade”.

The formal letter of notice was sent to the HSE yesterday.

SJOG currently provides intellectual disability and mental health services to over 8,000 children, adolescents and adults, and employs 3,000 staff and volunteers in 300 locations across counties Dublin, Kildare, Kerry, Wicklow, Meath and Louth.

Over 2,500 of those impacted are in receipt of day, residential and respite services for people with a disability. The Order of St John of God has been providing these services for almost a century.

The Chief Executive of St John of God Community Services, Clare Dempsey, said the organisation has been communicating over the past two days with the children and adults supported by the services, their families and staff members, retirees and volunteers to inform them of the “very sad decision”.

“This is a day we wished would never come but in the face of an intractable funding crisis that has prevailed for over a decade, we simply cannot continue. We have endeavoured to resolve this over the years in talks with the HSE but without success.

“In February of this year, we advised the HSE that the extent of the financial crisis was so acute that if the accumulated deficit and current funding requirements were not addressed, we would be left with no option but to serve 12 months’ notice to terminate the services arrangement and transfer responsibility for the entirety of our service provision to them directly.”

Letters to government and service users

Dempsey said the organisation wrote to the government in recent weeks to alert it “to the seriousness of the crisis and the fact that the Board was likely in late September to formally take this decision, in the absence of a firm and unequivocal commitment to address an existing €27 million annual funding gap and the accumulated deficit which stands at €37.7 million at the end of August 2020″.

Dempsey said this accumulated deficit would stand at almost €54 million if the order didn’t contribute €16 million in recent years to sustain service provision.

She said the decision “goes against what we want to do and what we have tried to do for almost a century, but we simply can no longer continue in this intolerable situation which has so frequently compromised, despite the best efforts of staff, the services and supports we provide to people”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne, Dempsey said the funding situation is “unsustainable, it’s intolerable, and it has given rise to the decision by the board to take this very difficult decision and transfer the services to the HSE”.

Dempsey said service users, their families and staff are “devastated” by the decision.

“People are obviously devastated, sad, distressed and worried for what the future might bring.

Many people we support are with us since early childhood and are now into late adulthood, equally the families have been with us, staff have worked with us for many long years and are truly committed to the mission of the services, and to the people we support. So obviously, it’s a very worrying and distressing time.

SJOG’s decision was first reported in the Irish Times this morning.

A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed to TheJournal.ie that it has received the letter of notice.

“In the first instance, it is of critical importance to reassure service users, families and the public that these vital supports and services will continue to be provided without disruption.

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“The HSE values the services provided by SJOGCS clg as a significant funded support provider. Importantly, the HSE will continue to work positively with SJOGCS clg in order to resolve the sustainability challenges that have been raised,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

In letters to service users and their families, and to staff members, volunteers and retirees, SJOG said it would “do everything in its power to manage the smooth transfer of service over the 12-month period”.

An urgent meeting has been sought with the HSE, to begin putting the “appropriate transitional arrangements and plans” in place for the next 12 months, Dempsey added.

Notice has also been served on the Health Information and Quality Authority.

Speaking at a Department of Health press conference this morning, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that SJOG has provided “for many years, many many decades, and continues to provide, invaluable services that families all around Ireland have used over the previous decades”.

Donnelly said that there was a “continuity plan” in place for the HSE to take responsibility for the services SJOG currently provides.

“If the current view of the board carries through, we would transfer functions to the state on the first of October next year,” Donnelly said.

“There will be very close, ongoing conversations between the state and St John of God’s,” he said.

“I want to acknowledge the profoundly beneficial impact they have had on so many people and so many families for so many decades.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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