Concerns for the future of St Brendan's Village in Mulranny, which provides a home-from-home for many elderly returned Irish emigrants and older people in the community, were raised in the Dail this week by Mayo TD Michael Ring.
Following the resumption of proceedings in the Oireachtas following the summer recess, Deputy Ring was granted permission to raise his Topical Issue on the 'need to support not-for-profit nursing home units that are registered as a charity equally to the support provided from the NTPF per week to HSE nursing units' - during the Dáil Éireann debate led by the Ceann Comhairle on Wednesday evening last.
Highlighting financial pressures facing the ongoing operations at St Brendan's Village, Deputy Ring stated: "I am raising this very important issue of St. Brendan's nursing home in Mulranny. It is a tremendous facility with a wonderful reputation, opened in 1998. It is a rural based nursing home that provides many people with opportunities to remain and live in their own village. It is a not-for-profit nursing home and a registered charity but it is classified as private and is non-HSE.
"Unfortunately due to rising costs, this nursing home is finding it increasingly difficult to survive. St. Brendan's nursing home urgently requires financial support from the Government. It is vital that we support community-based nursing homes. They provide tremendous service. With an aging population it is very important that beds are maintained and not closed down. St. Brendan's nursing home, along with other private, non-profit nursing homes carry out the same work as the HSE-run units with the same number of residents. The HSE units get 60% more funding than St. Brendan's nursing home and other private non-profit nursing homes. There needs to be equality and fairness in the system. We cannot let St. Brendan's nursing home close. It has been open for many years and there are many local patients depending on it. There is one patient there for 20 years. What is going to happen if that nursing home closes down? What is going to happen to that individual and other individuals who are in nursing homes in their own areas?"
"I might have disagreed with Dr. Jerry Cowley on many political issues but I compliment him on his role of chairman of this nursing home, dealing with all the rules and regulations for HIQA, with the beds that have been reduced, and having gone through Covid. The other big problem they have is something the Minister of State will have to deal with in respect of the HSE. Dr. Cowley spends €2,500 to go out to India and other world countries to bring in nurses. When their contracts are up, the next thing is that the HSE targets them and takes that staff away from him. The HSE can pay more, of course, because they pay out of taxpayers' money.
"This nursing home is registered as a charity. I am asking the Minister of State two things tonight. St. Brendan's is getting approximately €1,000 per bed. That needs to be increased to about €1,600 to €1,700. The second and most important thing is that it is a charity. It should not be classed as a private nursing home. It should be getting the same funding as St. Fionnan's nursing home down the road in Achill which does the same job. It is another wonderful nursing home but it will be getting €1,600 to €1,800 and Dr. Jerry Cowley's nursing home is getting €1,000. It is very unfair. I am asking the Minister of State to talk to her officials and see if there is anything she can do. This nursing home is in a crisis. We have already lost 31 nursing homes since 2020 and we do not want to lose this."
Replying to Deputy Ring, Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler, stated: "I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. He spoke to me about it earlier and when I went back to my office I looked up the facility he mentioned, St. Brendan's in Mulranny. It appears to be a fantastic facility for older people to age in their community.
"I am keenly aware of the challenges that have been faced by the nursing home sector over the last three years. These have been exacerbated since last year by inflationary cost increases. I am delighted the Deputy raised the situation relating to voluntary nursing homes. I think he is the first person who has done so. Some 81% of nursing homes in Ireland are privately owned, about 3.5% are voluntary and 16% are in the care of the HSE and the State. The voluntary not-for-profit sector very rarely gets an outing on the floor of the Dáil, so I thank the Deputy for referring to it.
"As the Deputy will be aware, budget 2023 saw an additional €180 million of funding for services for older people for winter 2022 and into 2023, building on unprecedented increases in recent years. This includes more than €40 million in additional funding for the nursing homes support scheme, NHSS, that we all know as the fair deal, which will provide for an uplift in the maximum prices chargeable by private and voluntary nursing homes, as negotiated. The Department of Health has regular interaction with the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. I met the NTPF again recently to discuss ways to support the sector, where necessary and appropriate, to complement the normal process of negotiating rate increases when contracts are renewed. Other options to support nursing homes are also being explored.
"The Deputy will be aware that we are in the budgetary cycle at the moment. I have had several meetings with my team in the Department and with the HSE. I will look positively at securing more funding for the nursing homes sector. I am acutely aware of the challenges small family, community and voluntary nursing homes face. They do not have the same economies of scale as larger nursing homes. We are speaking about 33 community beds in a rural area. While we have lost a lot of nursing homes, we have seen a net increase in beds, although they may not be in the areas where we need them. I take on board all the points the Deputy raised."
Deputy Michael Ring further enquired as to whether there was anything the Minister of State could do in the short term 'to support this valuable asset we have in the Mulranny area', stating: "As I outlined, it is there not to make a profit but to serve the community. Dr. Cowley has a tremendous team of staff. Perhaps the Minister of State could take a trip some time to see the way the service operates. It provides meals on wheels and housing. It is under extreme pressure", to which Minister of State Bulter replied: "I am very conscious of all the matters Deputy Ring raised and I thank him for raising them. The voluntary not-for-profit sector does a very good job. I am looking at all options. I will take on board what the Deputy said. Mayo is one of the counties I have not been to but would love to visit."