Staff in residential disability centres ‘afraid’ to report concerns

Staff felt high turnover in centres ‘jeopardised’ residents’ safety, internal surveys found

The audit found staff felt there was a ‘blame culture’ in place at the centre, leading to a fear of reporting mistakes. Photograph: iStock

The audit found staff felt there was a ‘blame culture’ in place at the centre, leading to a fear of reporting mistakes. Photograph: iStock

 

Some staff in a large provider of disability services felt afraid to report concerns and feared residents’ safety was “jeopardised”, due to a high turnover of workers, according to internal surveys carried out in recent years.

Sunbeam House Services is based in Co Wicklow and runs a number of residential centres for adults with intellectual disabilities, as well as respite and day services.

Cultural audits undertaken in 2017 and 2018 surveyed staff working in a number of Sunbeam House centres and found there was a “mistrust” of senior management, and concerns about the handling of resident-on-resident abuse cases.

The audits were released to The Irish Times following a Freedom of Information Act request. Sunbeam House had initially refused to release the documents, however, this decision was overturned by the Information Commissioner on appeal.

In Rosanna Gardens, a 14-bed residential centre, all of those surveyed felt there was not enough staff to meet residents’ needs. The majority of staff said they felt residents’ safety was “jeopardised because of high staff turnover”.

A small number said they took shortcuts to get their work done, while another employee said they ignored procedures to make work easier.

The audit found staff felt there was a “blame culture” in place, leading to a fear of reporting mistakes. One employee strongly disagreed when asked whether Rosanna Gardens was a safe place for residents.

Staff also reported concerns that resident-on-resident abuse was not being properly recognised. The surveys were carried out by Northern Ireland-based management consultants QE5 Ltd.

Three healthcare workers in another centre said “they would have worries about reporting concerns of abuse they had witnessed in the centre”.

‘Under pressure’

A majority of the staff surveyed in a Sunbeam House centre in Vallyview, Rathdrum, said they would be afraid to report mistakes to supervisors.

“If staff are afraid to report their mistakes then it is highly likely that errors are covered up . . . leading to poor quality care,” the audit said.

Workers in the centre reported “an absence of leadership” and “very poor management”, but some staff did feel things were improving.

In Tús Nua, a small centre for four residents, staff said they were “burnt out and under pressure”.

Staff told the consultants there was a “system of scapegoating in operation”, with a culture of blaming frontline workers and little accountability from management when mistakes occurred.

In a statement, Joe Lynch, Sunbeam House chief executive, said the internal audits had raised “several issues of concern”, particularly with staffing levels.

In recent years the organisation had received “sufficient funding” from the Health Service Executive, “to ensure that the staffing deficit was addressed”.

Mr Lynch said its staff turnover was now “one of the lowest in the sector”, and “immense progress” had been made in the area.

Sunbeam had introduced “significant changes since these audits” and continued to listen to staff, families and clients, to “provide a service in all our centres of which all of us can feel proud”, he said.

The organisation “works continuously to encourage a culture of openness and transparency”, and supported all staff to report issues and incidents, he said.

Major concerns around care standards, governance, and finances at Sunbeam House were previously detailed in an Irish Times report earlier this year.

The report revealed a woman with an intellectual disability was “unlawfully” restrained repeatedly while in the care of the charity in 2017. It also disclosed the Health Information and Quality Authority raised concerns in 2019 about the “overall fitness” of Sunbeam House to run services.