Owenacurra closure referred to HSE

After a number of “messy” delays, the Oireachtas Health Committee has sent a letter of referral to the HSE contesting its decision to close the Owenacurra mental health facility.

The health committee had originally referred the planned closure of the Midleton facility ito the HSE Board on 15 June, however, as new information emerged, the letter was amended causing a delay. In the letter, the health committee claims no independent reports have supported the HSE’s position that the Owenacurra building issues are beyond repair. The committee wrote: “The definitive option of closing the Owenacurra centre and the crude removal of services that this would involve poses a risk of adverse consequences for the vulnerable group of people affected, which include people beyond current residents who also require mental health placements of varying duration.”

The health committee also requested in the letter that there be an independent inquiry into the decision-making that led to the closure decision and to decisions made on Millfield House, Garnish House and Glenwood House that have involved facilities remaining vacant for extended periods of time while rental costs have escalated.

Green Party Cllr Liam Quaide described the letter of referral as a major development and a “rare occurrence” for the committee. “If the closure of the Owenacurra centre goes ahead, on the basis of a building rationale and a service provision rationale that don't stand up to scrutiny, no mental health service for our most vulnerable cohort of people is safe from the whims of individual managers.”

The decision to close the Owenacurra centre was made public in June 2021 by the Cork/Kerry Health Community, a division of the HSE, who deemed the 1970s building to be unsuitable for purpose. Families of residents were informed their loved ones, some of whom had been at the centre for 20 years, would be transferred to alternative facilities in the county.

A HSE spokesperson said: “Advice from construction experts led us to take the difficult but necessary decision to plan to close the Owenacurra centre, in a coordinated resident-centred way. We told residents (and where appropriate their family members) in June 2021 that we had no option but to close the centre.

“There has been significant public debate on whether it would be possible to refurbish the existing Owenacurra centre, with residents remaining on site during the works.

“We want to state clearly that this is not possible, would not be safe and would not be in the best interest of residents.”