Glimmer of hope for Owenacurra?
“We're always hopeful because we have to be. That's the only way we can keep going.”
Those were the words of Mary Hurley whose sister is one of the 11 remaining residents at the Owenacurra mental health facility in Midleton which faces imminent closure.
The decision to close the Owenacurra centre was made public in June last year by the Cork/Kerry Health Community, a division of the HSE, who deemed the 1970s building unsuitable for purpose.
Nine of the 11 remaining residents at Owenacurra have recently been offered places at a new 24-hour centre in Carrigaline.
Speaking to the Cork Independent, Ms Hurley said the recent letter written by the Oireachtas Health Committee to the minister for mental health has given residents of Owenacurra and their families some hope of saving the centre.
She said she is hopeful that Minister Mary Butler’s commitment to her post as Minister of State for Mental Health will help her to make the right decision.
“This is not something that is a simple matter of signing off on some kind of process to do with the structural soundness of a building. It has been a really difficult process for the residents and the families to keep going with this fight. It wears people down.”
Ms Hurley said: “Residents have said from the beginning that Owenacurra is their home, they want to stay there. Midleton is where they feel connected and attached.”
She added: “Why are they breaking something that’s working? The HSE seems hell bent on just pushing a line quite shamelessly really. They seem to be able to detach themselves from the suffering, and it is suffering, there’s no other word for what these people are being put through.”
In its letter, the health committee called on the minister to reverse the decision as it is in contravention of A Vision for Change, Ireland’s model of mental health service provision. The model states that there must be 30 placements for people living with severe and long-term mental illness in every region of the country. If the Owenacurra centre closes, East Cork’s placements will go from 24 to zero.
The committee stated: “We believe that the evidence presented by the HSE to justify the closure has been unconvincing and raises concerns about the ad-hoc nature of the decision-making process relating to capital infrastructure of mental health facilities.”
East Cork Green Party Cllr Liam Quaide, who is a mental health professional and has been highly involved in the fight to save Owenacurra, welcomed the Health Committee’s recommendation.
“The HSE’s proposal to remove all our placement beds is at odds with the interests of our most vulnerable service-users and is fundamentally unjust. It’s heartening to see this recognised by the Oireachtas Health Committee,” said Cllr Quaide.
The Cork Independent contacted the HSE for a response but none was received by time of going to print.