Prejudice fear for Owenacurra residents
“I don't want to have to tell my sister that there are objections to this facility. It's just too much.”
The words of Mary Hurley whose sister is one of 11 long-term residents of the Owenacurra mental health facility in Midleton which faces closure.
Nine of the residents, including Ms Hurley’s sister, were recently offered residence at a new facility being developed in Glenwood House in Carrigaline, a former B&B.
However, more than 40 official letters of objection have been lodged with Cork County Council by residents living near the new site who have heavily criticised the HSE for a “lack of clarity” surrounding the new facility.
Speaking to the Cork Independent, Ms Hurley said these objections suggest that people in the local community may not welcome people with mental health difficulties.
“I don't know what the attitude is to people with mental health difficulties in that neighbourhood, but that you would expose a vulnerable population to that is really distressing,” said Ms Hurley.
She continued: “The idea that these residents, who are settled and completely integrated in their existing community, would be removed from there and hoisted into a neighbourhood where they are not wanted, where they're not welcome, where there might be prejudice against them – that seems really unethical.”
In one of the letters of objection to Cork County Council, a resident of Glenwood Court wrote that the proposed change is not in keeping with the residential nature of the estate.
The letter read: “At best it will cause substantial anxiety to many residents and is likely to cause disruption to what is now a very balanced community ranging from young families to older residents.
“It is clearly obvious that whilst the layout suited a short term stay B&B, it is not adequately served for long term accommodation for any health care setting. There is simply not enough ground within the development boundary to provide the adequate open space and recreation area which a facility like this will require.”
Another resident said that the HSE had not consulted with the residents of Glenwood Court when planning a mental health facility in the area.
The resident wrote: “According to social media news, this is potentially a facility for patients with severe mental health issues, however this is neither confirmed nor denied by the HSE. Is this a residence only facility or is it residence plus treatment? Is there security on site? What is the age group of patients? What recreational facilities are allowed? Will patients be free to wander around the estate and spend time on the greens where children play?”
In response to the objections, Cork Kerry/Community Healthcare, a division of the HSE, said it has met with representatives of the local community in relation to the new facility in Carrigaline.
A statement from the group read: “As a general point, we can say that we are committed to fostering positive relationships with all the many communities across Cork and Kerry where our facilities are located. Cork Kerry Community Healthcare has responsibility for dozens of residential facilities across Cork and Kerry. These facilities are valued parts of their communities and we enjoy strong relations with communities where our facilities are located. In developing new facilities, we abide by the requirements of the planning system.”
The controversial decision to close the Owenacurra centre was made in June last year by management of the Cork/Kerry Health Community who deemed the 1970s building unsuitable for purpose.
If the closure goes ahead, East Cork’s dedicated 24 hour mental health service placements will go from 24 to zero. This would be at odds with Ireland’s model of mental health service provision, A Vision for Change, which stipulates that there should be 30 placements in every region of the country.
Many of the residents at Owenacurra have been living at the facility for decades and it is feared that a move to a new facility would have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing.
A recent letter written by the Oireachtas Health Committee called on the Minister for Mental Health Mary Butler to reverse the decision to close Owenacurra. As of yet, there has been no response from the minister.