St John of God pauses move to hand over disability services to HSE

Progress in addressing funding issues follows months of ‘uncertainty’ for staff and families

St John of God Community Services is funded by the HSE to provide services to 8,000 children and adults on behalf of the State. Photograph: iStock

St John of God Community Services is funded by the HSE to provide services to 8,000 children and adults on behalf of the State. Photograph: iStock

 

St John of God charity has paused plans to transfer responsibility for providing disability services to thousands of children and adults to the Health Service Executive (HSE), following a breakthrough in talks around funding.

The organisation had announced last October that it was issuing the HSE with a formal 12-month notice that it would cease providing services, due to severe funding issues.

St John of God Community Services (SJOG), part of the wider SJOG Hospitaller Services Group, is funded by the HSE to provide services to 8,000 children and adults on behalf of the State.

The charity employs 2,500 people and is one of the biggest providers of intellectual disability and mental health services in the country. It has been grappling with a mounting financial deficit in recent years, citing underfunding from the HSE.

The planned transfer of services from SJOG to the HSE, due to take effect on September 30th, has been placed on hold, following a decision by its board in recent days.

In a letter to staff and families of service users on Thursday, Clare Dempsey, the charity’s chief executive, said the organisation was to engage in a sustainability impact assessment with the HSE.

“It is envisaged that, through this process, funding arrangements will be established to enable us to continue to provide and further develop our services to meet the needs of children, adolescents and adults,” she said.

Assessment

The assessment would include a review of the organisation’s substantial accumulated financial deficit, it said. The letter, seen by The Irish Times, states the process will run from the present until the end of next year.

The HSE had committed “to the provision of adequate funding to operate our services” during the period of the assessment, she said.

Ms Dempsey told staff and families she was aware the past 10 months had been an anxious time, due to the “uncertainty” of the future of SJOG services.

The latest development was a “significant step” towards placing the organisation on a “sustainable footing”, she said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the assessment would provide the basis “for the organisation to continue its important service delivery role in line with a reformed model of care”.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) had previously raised concerns about SJOG ceasing to provide services, correspondence shows.

Documents released to The Irish Times, under the Freedom of Information Act, show Hiqa wrote to the HSE and Department of Health in April, over the “potentially distressing impact on people with disabilities” living in centres run by SJOG.

Hiqa’s chief inspector of social services Mary Dunnion wrote to Kathleen MacLellan, head of social care in the department, raising concerns that Hiqa would be unable to register new centres that residents were due to move to, due to SJOG’s plan to cease running services.

Offence

The only options within the law would be for residents to be accommodated by SJOG in other residential disability centres or for a new provider to register the intended centres, which would allow residents to “move there and improve their quality of life”.

In the absence of this happening, SJOG would have found themselves “operating unregistered centres which is an offence”, she said. The recent resolution between the organisation and the HSE means that this will now not occur.

Ms Dunnion met SJOG in February to review overall compliance levels with standards and noted the provider had “a range of centres where the safety and quality of life for residents is below standard and where there are high levels of regulatory non-compliance”.