Limerick disability centre’s service ‘unacceptable’ due to funding shortfall
Pre-Covid Ian Carmody (24) attended St Vincent’s full-time, now he has just five hours
Ian (24) and Brendan Carmody, Kildimo, Co Limerick. Picture: Alan Place
A centre for more than 100 adults with intellectual disabilities in Limerick is providing an “unacceptable” service since reopening after lockdown, its management has warned.
The St Vincent’s Centre, a training, enterprise and employment service (TEES), at Lisnagry, is providing participants who had attended five days’ a week up to March 12th, with just a one day a week service since reopening on September 7th. The introduction of Level 3 restrictions on Tuesday will not change this.
This is due to social distancing requirements and “staffing issues”, said the Daughters of Charity who run the service. They are “dismayed” at the recent €10 million allocated to all disability day services by the Health Service Executive in its plan to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, saying this would allow them “increase day services by one day a week” at most.
Among those impacted is Ian Carmody (24) who is autistic and non-verbal and “loved” attending the centre just outside Limerick city. Attending five days a week, from 9.30am to 4pm, provided him with friendships, activities and a sense of independence, said his father Brendan Carmody who gave up his job at Boston Scientific in Cork several years ago to care for his son.
While “lockdown was tough” the family had outdoor space, the weather was good and Ian’s mother, Irene, who works as a school special needs assistant (SNA), was off work. “We managed,” said Mr Carmody.
“Come September, there was an announcement that day services would reopen. We told Ian he would be going back.” A month on, and almost seven months since it closed, St Vincent’s can accommodate Ian for just five hours on Fridays. His mother is back at work.
Where he had a routine of being up at 7.30am to be dropped off by his father and arriving home about 5pm, he now sits at home.
“There’s nothing for him,” said Mr Carmody. “Sure, he loves watching YouTube, Disney movies, music. But he can’t look at his tablet all day. He gets very frustrated. He squeezes his hands together and makes agitated sounds.
“One of the worst things was, on Sunday evenings he used to go and get his bag to get ready for the week. He did that again and we had to tell him: ‘All gone. All gone’ Now, on Sunday he goes and just looks at the bag.”
The strain on his wife is, he said, “horrendous”. The upheaval means Ian is not sleeping well and he needs his mother to settle. “She is hardly sleeping. If this goes on I am very worried she will not be able to keep working.
“No-one seems to care about people with disabilities. The Government is throwing money at everything at the moment and then just €10 million for all day services. It’s like we are an afterthought: ‘We’ll throw them a handout if we feel like it.’ Where are Ian’s rights?”
A spokesman for St Vincent’s and the Daughters of Charity said pre-lockdown, 140 people had attended its day services five days a week in Limerick – 90 as day-attendees and 50 residents from community houses.
“Attendee hours have been significantly reduced due to capacity issues resulting from social distancing requirements, staff redeployment to community houses, and resource [staffing] issues.”
In addition, as service users from residential units are no longer attending day services to avoid bringing Covid in from the community, they are at home all day. St Vincent’s has had to redeploy staff to the residential units from day services. With sufficient funding the centre could provide day services on more days, by recruiting additional staff and making additional premises Covid-compliant, he said.
Until then, “the limited service provision will continue. The current day service offered to day attendees in TEES Limerick is extremely concerning . . . and is acknowledged as unacceptable.”
The National Federation of Voluntary Service Providers, an umbrella body representing more than 60 service providers for people with intellectual disabilities, was “shocked” at the €10 million allocation.
It underlined how “imperative” it was Government adopt the rights-based approach provided in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Ireland ratified in 2018, said chairman Sean Abbot.
A spokesman said HSE Mid-West was examining “additional funding streams, be it recurring and or once-off, to provide an increase in the quantum of day services”. Asked when Ian’s day services would return to normal he said: “Ultimately it will depend on a number of factors” including social distancing protocols and funding for additional staff to “support increased and/or return to full day service”.
A spokeswoman for the HSE national office said the executive was “fully cognisant” of the stress to people with disabilities and their families.
“The HSE’s aim is to restore services in a safe way. In line with the very significant investment made by the State and funded agencies we will continue to work with service users and their families/carers to ensure that we achieve this aim.”