Teenager in wheelchair ‘easy target’ for assaults in HSE centre

Residents in Donegal disability centre living in ‘fearful environment’ due to violent acts

Residents in Ballytrim House, Co Donegal, were left living in a “chaotic and fearful environment”, according to a Hiqa report.

A teenager living in a Health Service Executive centre for people with disabilities was assaulted by an adult resident on multiple occasions as she was in a wheelchair and an “easy target”, a highly critical inspection by the State health watchdog found.

Residents in Ballytrim House, Co Donegal, were left living in a "chaotic and fearful environment", due to a pattern of violent incidents the centre management had failed to properly respond to for several months, according to a report published on Thursday.

During an inspection last July, Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) staff reported concerns "that residents and children were not safe" in the 12-bed centre, due to almost-daily incidents of violence and aggression between residents and towards staff.

During the unannounced inspection, Hiqa staff witnessed a teenage resident in a wheelchair appearing “fearful” of an adult resident, and later “heard her scream for help when this resident approached her and made a hitting gesture towards her”, the report said.


Review of records

Following a review of records, inspectors found the vulnerable teenage resident had been hit and assaulted by the other adult resident on several occasions.

“Staff told inspectors that because this child was in a wheelchair and had limited mobility she was an ‘easy target’ and ‘gets hit and targeted a lot’,” the Hiqa report said.

The Co Donegal centre provides both full-time and part-time residential care to children and adults with disabilities.

In another incident, an adult resident “stripped naked” in front of a female teenage resident last March. The Hiqa inspectors found “very concerning failings” in the centre’s response to the incident, which had not been reported to Tusla, the child and family agency, as required under child protection laws.

Inspectors found it was “not an isolated incident and had occurred previously whereby adults ‘stripped’ in front of children,” the report said.

Inspectors found a pattern of violence from some residents towards others, which included physical assaults, such as hitting, slapping and pushing.

Vulnerable children

The watchdog’s report found the HSE-run centre had failed to properly respond to the “unacceptable living conditions” in the home over several months.

During the July inspection, Hiqa staff were so concerned they immediately informed HSE senior management in the area of the “urgent risk situation,” and the need for a plan to protect the vulnerable adults and children in the centre, the report said.

Following a review of records, Hiqa inspectors found there had been at least 225 recorded incidents in the first six months of last year.

The Hiqa report found the disability centre was not compliant with required standards under all 11 categories inspected.

The centre was inspected again last October and Hiqa staff found “significant improvements” had been made in managing risks to residents, although there remained “a high number of incidents”.

Improvements included a separate living space for youth residents in the centre away from adults, and better management of incidents.

The centre was found to be non-compliant with three of the 11 health regulations inspected, and the highly critical July report was published alongside the report from the October inspection.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times