A number of Good Samaritans have come forward offering to make the necessary refurbishments to St Francis’ public nursing home in Upper Newcastle to save it from closure.
This follows a HSE West decision - taken last year - to close the home as a residential facility in the wake of an inspection by the HSE regulator HIQA which made several recommendations to enable it to meet new nursing home standards.
The HSE said at the time that complying with HIQA’s request would mean major changes, including reducing the number of bedrooms at the home to meet the demand for single en suite rooms. A family visiting room, large sitting room and space for storage would also have to be facilitated.
from the cost of these changes, the health authority said they would have resulted in a very significant reduction in bed numbers. It said the nursing home would operate as a daycare centre in the future.
The move has met with strong opposition and a petition organised by former mayor and vice chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum Cllr Catherine Connolly to save the 33-year-old home from closure has collected 8,000 signatures. It hopes to meet its 10,000 target by next month. The campaign was held at Shop Street every Saturday throughout July and also outside St Joseph’s Church, the Sacred Heart Church in Westside and the Cathedral.
Cllr Connolly says people are angered by the HSE’s decision to close the city home.
“The feedback has been one of outrage at the decision to close such a wonderful facility. The amount of people who came up offering their services to make the necessary refurbishment changes indicated the enormous goodwill that is out there.”
Residential services for older people are a basic human right and must be seen as a core public service, she says.
“It is important at this point to place the decision to close St Francis Nursing Home in context. The HSE West have confirmed that they do not have the resources to expend the required sum, estimated between €200,000 and €250,000, to make the necessary changes to the home. When the number of residents (currently 19 out of 38 beds in St Francis are occupied ) goes below 15 the remaining residents will be transferred to private for profit nursing homes.
“At the same time however the HSE West can spend €876,935 annually (in a 25 year lease! ) to lease part of one building (one of 75 buildings leased by them ) beside the Aldi Shop on Seamus Quirke Road and identified as the West City Centre Galway in order to provide some of its community services. This is notwithstanding that they have acres of land in Merlin Park together with many empty buildings and also empty building space on the regional [hospital] site itself.
“Photos of both buildings, St Francis Nursing Home which they say they cannot afford to refurbish at less than one third of the cost of one year’s rent of the other building (which is on a 25 year lease ), illustrate the idiocy of such decision making.”
She is fearful if the HSE “gets away” with closing St Francis Home that similar fates will await other public nursing homes in the county.
“The reality of what is happening here is that the HSE West are testing out their new policy of privatisation on the most vulnerable and also to assess public reaction to closing such a facility.
“If they get away with such a decision then the writing is clearly on the wall for all other publicly run nursing homes in Galway county, including St Anne’s in Clifden and Áras Mhic Dara in Carraroe.
“The provision of residential homes for our elderly people cannot be left to market forces which are driven by profit. We have clearly seen what such a model of business has done to the country.”
Cllr Connolly is appealing to people to “stand up and be counted” and show solidarity with the residents of St Francis Home and their families by signing the petition to keep the facility open. She is urging local politicians to make their voices heard, too.
“It is time for all elected members in Galway city and county to stand together with the people and show united strength against such a cynical and stupid decision.
“We will continue collecting signatures from the first Saturday in September and plan to present the collected signatures to the health forum and the city council in September and to the Minister for Health when the Dáil resumes in the autumn.”