Woman with intellectual disabilities facing Christmas in hospital due to care staff shortage

Sister of Gina Wilkin says ‘she’s not sick, she doesn’t require psychiatric treatment’

A woman with intellectual disabilities who has been in residential care for two decades is facing being put into hospital for Christmas because the service provider does not have enough staff.

Sunbeam House Services (SHS) runs a number of residential centres for adults with intellectual disabilities in Co Wicklow, as well as respite and day services. It has told the family of one long-term resident that she faces being admitted into hospital for several weeks as they have no staff available to run the centre where she lives.

Gina Wilkin (47) has been a resident of Sunbeam House for around 20 years. In recent years she has lived in a single-occupancy centre in Bray, where she requires 24/7 one-to-one care.

Sunbeam House has in recent days informed Ms WIlkin’s family that it cannot find staff to care for her from December 10th until after Christmas at least and that it plans to transfer her to hospital.

READ MORE

Gina, says her younger sister Jennifer, has a fear of hospitals after a “traumatic” experience several years ago in a psychiatric facility.

“She is a well able, functional adult but you put her into a hospital and she would regress,” her sister told The Irish Times. “For them to have even suggested hospitalisation is beyond me. She’s not sick, she doesn’t require psychiatric treatment.”

Jennifer said Gina would previously have been cared for by the same Sunbeam House staff, who she described as “incredible”, but that staff shortages have seen the provider increasingly reliant on a constantly changing stream of agency workers.

“Gina is afraid because she doesn’t know the person. Routine is so important, there’s no familiar face, so Gina gets to a very heightened state,” Jennifer said. “They can’t promise her safety and security on one hand and then throw a different stranger every single day into her house.”

In a November 23rd email, Isabelle Napoleao, Sunbeam House senior manager, told the Wilkin family they were having “major challenges” finding staff to care for Gina, with the situation reaching “breaking point”. The correspondence said if staff were not found, Sunbeam House “will need to seek the support from a hospital to ensure Gina’s safety and wellbeing”.

“This of course was a last resort as we could not leave Gina alone ... as her safety is paramount. In the meantime, we are working diligently to exhaust all avenues and produce a long-term solution,” she wrote.

In an email on Wednesday, Joe Lynch, Sunbeam House chief executive, reiterated that “every effort” was being made to find staff to run the centre where Gina lives. “Unfortunately we have not been in any way successful in these efforts over the last few months and in particular in the last few weeks.”

Mr Lynch told the family the provider has “no viable possibilities for staffing this side of Christmas” and was unable to secure agency workers to cover the shifts.

“I am truly sorry that we have not been able to meet Gina’s needs. Staffing is an growing issue for SHS and other agencies and it is placing services like Gina’s in jeopardy,” he said.

Gina was a “fighter”, who loved writing poetry and making little craft angels, her sister said. “She’s right in the community ... You go around Bray you’ll see little traces of Gina in different places.”

Jennifer said Gina would find it too difficult to live with other family members without being “overwhelmed” due to sensory issues.

“Gina has been institutionalised since she was a teenager,” she said.

Jennifer urged the HSE, who largely fund the provider, to intervene in the case.

“We’re just one family, but this is happening to a lot of people,” she said.

In a statement, Mr Lynch said SHS had “59 vacancies in front line staff, despite our continual efforts to fill these positions, and utilising an inordinate amount of agency staff”. He said that “alternative provision” must be made in the best interest of residents in such cases.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times