Retaining Owenacurra centre would be failing patients, says Minister

Residents, families and local politicians have called for mental health centre to stay open

The decision to close a mental health facility in Co Cork was “not taken lightly” but allowing residents to stay in a “substandard building would be failing their needs”, the Minister of State for Mental Health has said.

Last summer, the HSE announced the Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, Co Cork, would close due to the building being "not fit for purpose".

The only long-stay residential and respite adult mental health facility in east Cork, it was initially due to close on October 31st, but a temporary stay was put in place.

Residents, some of whom have lived there for 30 years, and local politicians have campaigned for the closure order to be reversed.

The Oireachtas Health Committee also called on Minister of State Mary Butler to reverse the HSE decision.

However, in a statement issued on Friday, Ms Butler said the decision to transfer services from this centre follows “serious concerns” about the standard of the building.

Ms Butler said the original plan for the Owenacurra centre was to refurbish the building to bring it to a suitable standard.

However, once planning work began, Ms Butler said it “became clear” that refurbishment would effectively mean demolishing the building, and even with significant investment, the unit would not be brought up to an acceptable accommodation standard for residents.

Ms Butler referred to inspection reports by the Mental Health Commission, stating the matters raised by the regulator meant it was "not appropriate or viable for the centre to continue operating".

“It was identified that systems such as heating, electrics, fire safety, building fabric etc are all beyond the end of useful life and the premises is failing standards significantly,” she said.

“Issues that would remain unresolved in the centre included inadequately sized residents’ bedrooms as well as a lack of social spaces, therapeutic spaces and essential staff support accommodation.”

Residents will be moved on a phased basis and the work with each resident is ongoing, she said.

Two of the residents’ current assessed needs are for nursing home care and the nine remaining residents’ assessed needs are indicating a reduced care need which could be met in a community residence with rehabilitative support.

The HSE is currently sourcing a property and have located a detached house that has been identified as suitable in terms of layout size and location in the area. Funding has been sought and a bid has been submitted.

“I have provided the HSE with €500,000 capital funding to assist with the reconfiguration of services associated with the Owenacurra premises,” she added.

Ms Butler said the will and preference of the residents have been “paramount” in all decision and actions taken by the HSE.

“I am satisfied that the decisions arrived at were made with best interests of the residents in mind, both from a health and safety viewpoint and from the provision of appropriate treatments,” she said.

“As service provider, the HSE has responsibility for delivery of mental health services and it would be inappropriate for myself and the Department to interfere in this matter.”

Earlier on Friday, residents and their families presented a signed letter to the Taoiseach’s constituency office, calling for his support to overturn the decision to close the centre.

“Owenacurra in Midleton is a unique centre. It provides us with a safe place where our mental health, and not our illness, is prioritised,” the letter said.