Families say closure of East Cork mental health facility will be heartbreaking for residents

Families say closure of East Cork mental health facility will be heartbreaking for residents

Closing a mental health centre in East Cork would be “heart-breaking” for residents, their families have said.

Families and local politicians have campaigned against an initial decision to close the centre, which also offers day services and respite care, later this month. HSE Cork/Kerry has now extended this date as many residents are still waiting to hear where they will be re-housed.

 Laoise Kelleher: 'My aunt has been there for about 25 years. She has been so happy there. Midleton is her home.' Picture: David Keane.
Laoise Kelleher: ‘My aunt has been there for about 25 years. She has been so happy there. Midleton is her home.’ Picture: David Keane.

Laoise Kelleher, a niece of one resident at the Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, said they feel “so helpless” at the proposed closure.

“My aunt has been there for about 25 years. She has been so happy there. Midleton is her home,” she said.

“When she walks down the street, she knows everyone. They are all so integrated and that is so lovely.” 

She praised the clinical staff in particular, for how connected they kept everyone during the lockdowns.

However, she was frustrated with the HSE’s presentation to the Oireachtas sub-committee on Mental Health recently.

Officials could not state the potential cost of renovating the 1970s’ building, although the decision to close was taken because this is too expensive to consider, according to chief officer Michael Fitzgerald.

A spokeswoman said on Monday that staff have discussed placement options with residents, and they have been advised “this process may take longer than the end of October”.

In the meantime, closure has started, with the first of the 19 residents transferred recently. 

“It is was really upsetting for my aunt. She was very upset, she is usually very chilled out and calm. This is only the start of it,” Ms Kelleher said.

Maureen O' Sullivan: 'This is absolutely heartbreaking, we are devastated. This came totally out of the blue.'
Maureen O’ Sullivan: ‘This is absolutely heartbreaking, we are devastated. This came totally out of the blue.’

Maureen O’ Sullivan, whose brother lives in the centre, said access to activities and socialising has helped change his life. 

“It has been the happiest 10 years of his life,” she said. “This is absolutely heartbreaking, we are devastated. This came totally out of the blue.” 

She is meeting with the HSE this week. “Four months on [since the announcement], we haven’t been given information on what better is. There is no better service,” she said.

Both families said they accepted the building was ageing but do not understand why the service is being dismantled and not re-housed. It is not yet known where the day service for up to 50 people will be re-located or the smaller respite service.

Mary Butler, Minister of State for Mental Health, met East Cork TDs just last week on this. Fine Gael’s David Stanton said the building has been found not fit for purpose, but he is hopeful the HSE-owned site can remain in use. 

“The concern now would be that the long-term services remain in the region,” he said. 

“Ideally we want to replace the facility on the site or very close by.”

“North Cork is reasonably well-served from a residential point of view,” Labour TD Seán Sherlock said. “But the closure of Owenacurra leaves absolutely nothing for the people of East Cork, and that’s a great concern.” 

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