Campaigners opposed to the relocation of a “purpose-built” day care centre in Loughrea, Co Galway have written to the Charities Regulator expressing concern that the facility is being moved into “a former workhouse”.
In a letter to the regulator, the Loughrea Concerned Citizens group said there was “much dismay” in the community at the plan to move the centre into a former workhouse which feels like “a backward step” when “a bright, airy, purpose-built centre stands just a few yards away”.
More than 2,500 people have signed a petition calling on the HSE to immediately reopen the Seven Springs day care centre which closed during lockdown and is now open just one day a week while service users attend the local Loughrea Hotel three days a week.
The Concerned Citizens group say a day care facility was built on the site in 1979 with funding provided by local woman Nora Topping now deceased, who they say intended it to be a community facility. This building was demolished when the St Brendan’s community nursing unit was built in 2011, and was replaced by the Seven Springs facility.
The HSE confirmed that the Topping Trust, a registered private charitable trust, was “supporting the capital cost” of adapting part of the former workhouse which is also in the St Brendan’s campus, as a new day care centre. A spokeswoman said the facility should be completed by late 2023. Tenders have been sought.
Documents released to the Concerned Citizens group under the Freedom of Information rules show that Hiqa raised concern about the inadequacy of dining space available to St Brendan’s residents on a number of occasions.
Retired teacher Mattie Quinn, chairman of the group, said the documents showed that a number of options to address this issue were discussed such as adapting empty bedrooms and building an extension. “Hiqa never dictated that the day care centre be commandeered,” he added. The Seven Springs centre is linked to the nursing home by a glass corridor.
When the day care centre, which pre-Covid was attended by up to 35 people, failed to reopen after lockdown restrictions eased, two protests were held in Loughrea.
Geraldine Donohue, an Independent member of Galway County Council who organised the protests, said the HSE was “clearly not listening to the 2,500 people who signed the petition”.
Kitty Devine, a former assistant director of nursing in St Brendan’s, said the HSE proposal was not in line with Mrs Topping’s wishes. “I knew Nora Topping. She was a wonderful woman, a former nurse who saw the isolation in rural areas and wanted to do something about it,” said the 85-year-old local woman.
Ms Devine said she did not believe Mrs Topping would approve of the plan to move the service into a 150-year-old building “with so many sad memories there”.
Local Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon who supports the HSE plan said the new facility would be larger than the old Seven Springs centre and would have a substantial outdoor garden and courtyard, something not available in the existing facility.
In a statement, the trustees who include Mr Cannon, said “due to certain ill-informed speculation” they were clarifying their role.
They said the terms of the trust stipulated that it was for the benefit of residents of St Brendan’s nursing home or people qualified to be residents. The provision of day care facilities on the St Brendan’s campus fell within the terms of the trust “and was appropriate in all of the circumstances”, they added.
The HSE confirmed that during the Covid 19 pandemic when the day service closed, the nursing home used that space to ensure compliance with social distancing rules. An “application to vary” the use of this space was submitted and the re-registration reflected that change.
Deputy Cannon said the HSE had recently confirmed that if the nursing home lost the Seven Springs space, it would be in breach of the Heath Act 2007 “and the continued operation of the CNU [community nursing unit] would be seriously threatened”.