Homes for mentally disabled to close

 

Health authorities have pledged to act on a report which states that all institutions for people with intellectual disabilities should be closed within seven years.

The report notes that many of the facilities, home to 3,500 people, are unsuitable and struggle to provide basic services such as washing or toilets for residents.

It recommends replacing all 72 “congregated settings” – or institutions with 10 residents or more – with supported or independent placements in the community.

At present, institutions for disabled people are not subject to any form of independent inspection, but the Government says it hopes to start inspections within 18 months.

The report, Time to Move on from Congregated Settings: A Strategy for Inclusion, was commissioned by the Health Service Executive into the need to move away from institutional care for vulnerable people.

In a survey of residents, it found that more than half had a severe or profound intellectual disability.

Most residents had been living in an institution for 15 years or more and had minimal contact with family or friends. Only 15 per cent of residents had been involved in a community activity on their own in the past month.

This lack of participation in the community was compounded by the physical isolation of a number of centres: almost half were located between one and five miles from the nearest town. Many residents in older institutions are still being changed or washed in communal areas, the report states.

One project manager noted it had “20 older people with severe disability with one accessible shower and two wash basins. People wait their turn to be washed and cleaned”.

Another manager said some living conditions involved “a ward with 10 beds side-by-side with minimal space between, and no curtain dividing them”.

In another case, a project manager said understaffing meant many residents were left with little or nothing to do all day. In response to the report published yesterday, Kate Hartigan, assistant national director for the executive, said moving all people to community-based settings within seven years would be “challenging”.

She said the executive is seeking plans from voluntary groups on how they propose to move towards a new model of community-based support.

Minister of State with responsibility for disability Kathleen Lynch said the target was achievable. “If we implement this properly, we can make life an awful lot better for people who are in these inappropriate settings.”