Rehab threat to withdraw services averted pending further talks

Representatives of healthcare charity seeking extra €2m from Minister for Health

Representatives from Rehab met  Minster for Health Simon Harris on Tuesday afternoon. File photograph: Dara McDonaill/The Irish Times

Representatives from Rehab met Minster for Health Simon Harris on Tuesday afternoon. File photograph: Dara McDonaill/The Irish Times

 

The Rehab Group has said it will delay notifying the HSE that it is going to terminate contracts for the care of approximately 3,000 people with disabilities, pending a resumed meeting with Minister for Health Simon Harris in a week’s time.

The charity has said it urgently needed approximately €2 million to bridge a funding shortfall in its care budget. It met on Tuesday afternoon with Mr Harris to discuss the crisis.

Prior to the meeting with Mr Harris, and with Minister of State with special responsibility for disability, Finian McGrath, the group said it had made the “extremely sad and difficult decision” to give 12 months notice to the HSE of its decision to close down the service.

After the meeting, a spokeswoman for Mr Harris said it had been agreed that Rehab and the HSE would “engage intensively and meet against with the ministers next week”.

Speaking to reporters prior to the meeting, Mr Harris said it was a “time for cool and calm heads” and that if the intensive negotiations he wanted to see take place, led to an agreement, then extra funding “would probably be forthcoming”.

Rehab Care provides respite and residential services for 186 children, many with high-support needs, day services to more than 1,600 adults, and supported accommodation services which allows hundreds of people to live independently in their communities, some after leaving decades of institutional care.

The group said the reasons for its financial difficulties were manifold and included the higher care costs of people using its services as they aged, the burgeoning costs of meeting new Hiqa and HSE regulatory requirements, necessary property upgrades, “a massive hike in insurance costs”, and the removal of additional HSE funding to cover inflation in 2010.

The decision to consider closing down the service followed more than two years of negotiations between the group and the HSE during which time the HSE failed to resolve the ongoing funding issue, the charity said.

“The board is deeply aware of the impact of this decision on the more than 3,000 service users and their families, as well as our 1,500 dedicated staff members throughout the 117 locations where the services are provided,” it said in a statement issued prior to the meeting.

“The board recognises that this announcement will cause great upset and anxiety for the people who use our services in RehabCare, their families, and staff who provide that care.”

In its statement, Rehab said that over recent times it had taken a number of steps to address its financial problems including selling its property at Sandymount, in Dublin, closing loss-making services in Ireland and Britain, restructuring head office roles, downsizing staff numbers and salaries at head office, the non-investment in technology, closing its group defined benefit pension scheme, and the near elimination of the use of agency staff.

Prior to the meeting Rehab chairman, Jimmy Tolan, said giving notice to the HSE was “an unprecedented decision and one we never imagined we would have to make.

“During the last two years we have done everything in our power to engage with the HSE to secure adequate funding for these services. Now, Rehab is no longer in a position to continue to fund the significant losses incurred in providing these services and is in an extremely difficult position where it has no other option but to issue 12 months’ notice of termination to the HSE.”

The situation could be reversed, and the care services could be saved, but only if Rehab was provided with urgent additional funding to ensure that the services could continue, he said.

Earlier, Rehab spokeswoman Kathleen O’Meara said: “This is a very difficult decision for the board to come to. We’re not in the business of walking away from our responsibility to 3,000 people. It’s sad that it has come to this.”

Rehab had to abide by standards set by Hiqa on behalf of the State, she said. “It is important to do that, but there is a cost attached.”

She said insurance costs for the Rehab Group were €1 million this year, and those costs have “ jumped a lot”.