Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Disability Support Services

4:55 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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What is happening at St. Mary's Centre Telford - the nursing home, the assisted living housing and the disability services - and indeed what has already happened with the Caritas Convalescence Centre, in terms of the attempted execution of a tactical liquidation and a manufactured insolvency at the expense of the workers who worked providing these services and the residents and service users in the centre and at the homes there, is an absolute scandal. The residents are watching this debate now because what has gone on there threatens perfectly good and viable services specifically and uniquely provided for people with blindness and visual impairment and disability. It is an institution that has been operating since 1860, funded by the public but run by the Sisters of Charity who have decided, essentially using Covid-19 as a cover, to execute a tactical liquidation.

To give the Minister of State a sense of the feelings of the residents I will read out what some of those residents, who have been there, in some cases, 63 and 72 years, are saying:

We want our home back as we knew it. It has been so frightening and threatening having these liquidators here. How would you like it if you had the enemy in your home, your sanctuary? Our home should feel safe and unthreatening. Now it is like a prison. We are afraid to move. I've been here 62 years and my friend has been here 72 years. We've stopped smiling. Instead we are nervous, cannot sleep and it is affecting our mental health so much.

I do not have the time to read them all but the Minister of State will get the sense of fear and anxiety of these residents who are vulnerable, elderly women with visual impairment. They are facing their home and their community being broken up and all of the workers who provided those services being simply dumped.

6 o’clock

The Government needs to step in and do something about this.

The social housing element was originally financed by Dublin City Council and the services were funded by the HSE but the Sisters of Charity-owned companies that run the centre have manufactured an insolvency and are looking for a liquidation that they should not get. This is because the insolvency is manufactured. The companies claim they have liabilities associated with refurbishing the place to bring it up to certain standards. They claimed that the HSE funding might not continue and that they could not afford the redundancies, but the redundancies are happening only because St. Mary’s triggered them - it did not have to – in a nursing home that was actually Covid-free, was run perfectly well and provides excellent services and a home to the residents. This is occurring when the company has €750,000 in the bank. If the redundancies go through, it will cost the taxpayer nearly €1 million. The request is for the Government and the HSE to step in and support the application made for an examiner to be brought in to save the jobs and services and prevent the trauma and anxiety that is now being inflicted on the vulnerable women. I ask the Government to step in. It has the power. It should get the HSE to do the right thing and stop this scurrilous behaviour by the companies owned by the Sisters of Charity.

5:05 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for raising this important issue. A key principle underpinning Government policy is to support older people to live in their own home with dignity and independence for as long as possible. In recent years, there has been a shift in the focus of healthcare provision towards home care. Home support services are key in facilitating older people to remain at home and with our ageing population will become increasingly important. There will, of course, always be people whose needs are best met in a residential care setting or other supported housing model such as the services provided at St. Mary's nursing home and supported housing in Telford.

The relevant Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is aware of the difficult decision to close taken by the board of management of St. Mary's, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity. On 23 July, the HSE was advised that St. Mary's Centre (Telford) Limited was placed in voluntary provisional liquidation by order of the High Court at the request of its board of directors. The HSE advised that this was not an expected or anticipated action and was contrary to what the board of management had been advising the HSE up to the previous week. Provisional liquidators were appointed and they contacted the HSE regarding client and staff welfare on 27 July. It is understood that HIQA was also aware of this issue. At the time, there were 19 nursing home clients and 22 disability clients in residence at the centre.

The HSE has notified the Department that, as of 8 September, there were 22 residents remaining within the service, three persons resident in Loyola House and 19 remaining within the disability independent-living unit and apartments. The HSE is working closely with the provisional liquidators and HIQA to ensure all remaining clients are adequately and appropriately cared for until the High Court deliberates further on the application to liquidate the company by its board of directors.

At the High Court hearing on 8 September, an application was made on behalf of a group of employees, former employees, residents and their families to consider putting the company into examinership. This matter is due to be heard on 23 September.

The HSE remains conscious of the vulnerability of the residents at the centre and of the anxiety and stress this set of circumstances has caused for them and their families and that, through ongoing further engagement, it is hoped that such anxiety and stress can be substantially alleviated. The HSE is continuing to fund the provisional liquidators to enable care provision to be maintained for the remaining clients at the centre.

The HSE has also engaged on site, effective from Thursday, 3 September last, to review the service and is committed to supporting services provision and to assistance in respect of client care at the request of the provisional liquidators, who are legally fulfilling the role of provider at this point. An independent advocacy service is currently being utilised where residents require and consent to such representation or assistance.

I heard the Deputy's frustration over the fear and anxiety of the workers and patients. He has asked the Government to step in. I understand the HSE has engaged with the INMO regarding the staff at St. Mary's. As the staff are not HSE employees, the matter of redundancy is for the liquidator to deal with.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State but it is very disappointing that the senior Minister is not here to deal with this very serious matter.

Engaging with liquidators and the INMO in terms of redundancies is just not good enough in this situation. Let me finish reading the comments of some of the residents:

Let us have our lives back so we can laugh again. To break up our community and friendship would be akin to death. We have not committed any crime. What have we done to deserve this?

What the residents want is to know that they can continue to live in their homes. That means retaining the assisted-living housing, the community, the disability services and the nursing home, which are perfectly good. All the HSE has to do is say it will support an examinership. It should not allow a liquidation to go through that is a tactical liquidation based on manufactured insolvency. This is an institution that was financially washing its own face. Its so-called insolvency was manufactured on the basis of notional redundancy liabilities that would not exist unless the workers were being let go. If the workers are not let go and the services are maintained, there is no liability. The HSE has made it clear that it was willing to provide funding to meet the necessary standards and, indeed, the companies had money in the bank in any event so there is no need for these services to close. There is utterly no need to move the elderly residents who have lived in the homes for decades and to cause stress and anxiety. We do not want words about engagement and all the rest of it; the Government must instruct the HSE to keep the services, homes and community in place. If it decided to do this, and if there were sufficient political will, the anxiety and fear of the residents could be prevented, vital services for the disabled and visually impaired could be maintained and the jobs of the workers, who have provided dedicated service for the service users for many years, could be saved. That is what the Minister of State needs to do and we need a commitment to that effect.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, I would like to reaffirm that the decision to close St. Mary’s was a course of action solely undertaken by the former board of directors. I hear the Deputy loud and clear that the residents want to continue to live in their homes with dignity. The Deputy wants the services maintained. He acknowledged the great work done by the staff. Provisional liquidators have been appointed and the HSE has confirmed that it is working closely with them and HIQA to ensure all remaining clients are appropriately cared for. At a High Court hearing on 8 September, an application was made on behalf of a group of employees, former employees, residents and their families to consider putting the company into examinership. This matter is due to be heard on 23 September.