County nursing homes could be next if St Francis’ closes, warns councillor

A city councillor has warned that if St Francis’ public nursing home in the city is closed she fears for the future of other public facilities, such as St Anne’s Community Nursing Home in Clifden, Aras Mhuire in Tuam, Aras Ronan on the Aran Islands and Units 5 and 6 in Merlin Park Hospital as well as Clifden District Hospital.

Cllr Catherine Connolly, who organised a campaign to save St Francis home from closure, says if the Minister for Health employs the “same logic” he is using as a reason to close St Francis’ to the other nursing homes, their existence could be under threat.

She says the minister confirmed at a recent meeting in the Dail with a delegation from the Save St Francis’ Home campaign that on a policy level nursing homes with under 50 beds were not viable.

Councillor Connolly said this statement by Dr James Reilly not only “beggars belief” but has “serious implications” for all public nursing homes in Galway.

“For example Units 5 and 6 in Merlin Park have less than 40 beds and the same situation applies to St Anne’s Community Nursing Home in Clifden, Aras Mhuire in Tuam, Aras Ronan on the Aran Islands and Clifden District Hospital. All of these homes have less than 40 beds.

“If the Minister is to follow his own logic than all of these public nursing homes in Galway, including Units 5 and 6 in Merlin Park, must close. In addition this policy is in complete contrast to the government policy in relation to private nursing homes. Indeed of the 38 private nursing homes in Galway city and county only 11 have more than 50 beds and the rest range from 48 down to 15 beds. This begs the question should public monies under the Fair Deal System [nursing home support scheme] be put into the 27 homes with less than 50 beds when according to Government policy they are not viable?”

Cllr Connolly, a member of the HSE’s regional health forum, claims the government’s policy on public nursing homes is “testing the waters” for their closure and insists it shows “total contempt” for the residents living in these homes.

“The campaign will now be seeking a meeting with Labour Minister of State Kathleen Lynch who is the minister directly responsible for services for older people.

It is clearly time for the Labour councillors and Labour TD Derek Nolan to stand with the people of Galway who elected them and the 25,000 signatories who clearly want St Francis Nursing Home kept open.”

Cllr Connolly outlined that seven representatives of the Save St Francis Campaign Committee met the Minister recently and presented him with the results of the signed signature petition.

“During the meeting, which lasted just over three quarters of an hour, the delegation put the case for keeping St Francis Community Nursing Home open to the Minister who certainly listened carefully to the arguments.

“Having heard their case, he confirmed that he was open to any reasonable solutions/suggestions which would keep St Francis open, that the allocation of 200,000 capital funding was not an insurmountable obstacle and also of course given the successful High Court challenge by the Abbeyleix Action Committee, that before any decision to close St Francis could be made there would have to be full consultation with the residents there. In this regard I said that if such consultation was to mean anything then it would have to include giving the residents there a choice to remain in their own home.”

Cllr Connolly said that the delegation highlighted that the proposed closure of the Upper Newcastle home would leave Galway city - with a population of 72,000 - without a public nursing home.

“Indeed it was confirmed to the minister that the only other facility for long term residents was Unit 5 and Unit 6 in Merlin Park which now had less than 40 beds. This information seemed to come as a total surprise to the Minister for Health as did the figures in relation to the people awaiting nursing home beds in Galway city and county.

“In particular he seemed unaware that 46 patients were taking up acute beds at University and Merlin Park Hospitals and this figure of 46 was part of an overall figure of 92 people who had been assessed as in need of nursing home care but had no place to go to. He also seemed unaware that no one had been assessed under the Fair Deal scheme in Galway city since last June and or that there was a waiting list waiting to be assessed.”

Cllr Connolly vowed that the Save St Francis Home campaign will continue into the New Year until “sense prevails”.

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