Deductions from long-term care residents were illegal and wrong

 

ANALYSIS:The question now is whether residents of other institutions are entitled to compensation

For decades, the State gave to people in long-term care with one hand – and took away with the other. Although they were paid social welfare just like others in society, this money was diverted to pay for a “health charge” to cover the cost of their accommodation and care.

There was only one problem: it wasn’t legal. As early as 1989 successive ombudsmen were telling the government it had no right to charge medical card holders long-stay charges.

Yet the Department of Health, which knew the charges were illegal from 1976, ignored the alarm signals. In 2005 the previous government even tried to legalise the charges retrospectively until its Bill was struck down by the Supreme Court.

As former minister Mary Harney said in 2005: “More than 300,000 people were charged illegally during 28 years. This was entirely wrong. They were old, they were poor, they suffered from mental illness, they had intellectual disabilities, they were physically disabled. As vulnerable people, they were especially entitled to the protection of the law and to legal clarity about their situation.”

Expensive mistake

The fallout from this expensive mistake continues to today. To date the State has paid out more than €425 million to thousands of people who were illegally charged while in a care home. Most were older people and in many cases they had died and the benefit went to their estate.

Those who qualified for repayment of the charges were in public care facilities or in publicly contracted beds in private facilities. Other residents of private homes were generally excluded.

An issue arose as to whether residents in voluntary homes should benefit. The department said no but three organisations caring for people with intellectual disabilities appealed this decision and won.

This meant that more than 500 residents in the three organisations – Daughters of Charity, St Michael’s House and Cheeverstown House – were in line for compensation ranging up to €20,000 each.

The people involved, whose disability ranges greatly in severity, want for little enough as they are in care. But as one source points out, at a time of cutbacks, the money involved could still be put to good use.

“For some, it might mean a special chair, for others a trip to Disneyland – if the HSE would only get the finger out,” he says.

Regardless of their needs, the residents are entitled to the money, which was illegally deducted from them over many years. The question that arises now that the department has folded on the issue is whether residents of any other institution are entitled to similar compensation.

Only three organisations appealed the department’s rejection of their case in 2008 but there are many others who might now revisit the issue.

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