Community nursing homes in the county could face closure if the warnings given by the Minister for Health Dr James Reilly come to fruition. Dr Reilly remarked earlier this week at a Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary party that cuts in the forthcoming budget could results in the closure of 40 nursing homes, the closing of 1,000 hospital beds, and the hotly debated issue of a €50 medical card charge.
In Mayo, there are five community nursing homes — the D’Alton Community Nursing Unit, Claremorris (39 beds ); St Augustine’s Community Nursing Unit, Ballina (39 beds ); the McBride Community Nursing Unit, Westport (39 beds ); St Fionnan’s CNU (32 beds ) and The Sacred Heart Hospital, Castlebar (166 beds ).
A few months ago there was rife speculation about the closing of the McBride Nursing Home in Westport. Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport Michael Ring however quashed “rumours” at the time of these closures. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser on Thursday, Minister Ring said that Dr Reilly has “given the worst scenario”, however the reality may not be as bad as that. “Take it from me” that the McBride Home is not about to close as this week a job was advertised for a Matron of the home, he said. The Minister added that all these cuts are speculation at the moment “as the budget has not been announced yet”.
There is also concern over the further closure of beds in Mayo’s district hospitals in Swinford, Belmullet, and Ballina. Fears were raised this week that beds may close in Ballina District Hospital due to a shortage of staff.
Local TD Michelle Mulherin said: “Ballina District Hospital is facing a challenge, in common with other step-down facilities around the country, as a number of nursing and support staff are retiring this year and by the end of February. This puts pressure on remaining staff and could lead to the temporary closure of some beds by the HSE.”Dep Mulherin said that she has met with Dr Reilly about this concern and “the Minister has confirmed to me that he appreciates the difficult situation for St Joseph’s.
As for Belmullet District Hospital, Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh, who over the past couple of years has been campaigning to keep the beds open in Belmullet spoke to the Mayo Advertiser about possible closures: “I'm very worried, it's been a continuous worry about the closure of Belmullet. Nineteen beds were closed over the last couple of months, so half have been cut. The most noticeable is the devastating effect it is having on the community, particularly elderly people looking for respite.”
In a query submitted to the HSE by the Mayo Advertiser as regards nursing home and bed closures, they responded with the following statement: “The Minister for Health has requested that the HSE urgently carry out and submit a risk assessment of all public nursing homes. Many of the public nursing homes are over 100 years old and in poor condition. Based on a survey carried out in March 2011, it is estimated that a maximum of only 30 per cent of the current public bed stock (approximately 2,000 beds ) will meet the minimum standards as set down in the National Quality Standards for Residential Care Settings for Older People in Ireland.
The HSE is also facing major challenges in respect of the reducing funding allocation and staff losses as a result of the public sector moratorium. The HSE’s Service Plan for 2012 has not yet been submitted to the Minister and, as such, no final decisions have been taken with regard to bed closures for next year.”