The Owenacurra centre in Midleton.

HSE quizzed on Owenacurra

A HSE official has denied that financial reasons are behind the decision to close a long-term mental health care facility in Cork.

Attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Public Petitions in Leinster House recently, Michael Fitzgerald, Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare was asked by committee chairman Martin Browne TD if the Owenacurra centre in Midleton had been chosen for “financial reasons”.

In June 2021, the HSE announced that the centre, which was home to 19 long-term residents at the time, was to be closed due to the building being no longer fit for purpose.

Addressing Mr Fitzgerald at the recent meeting, Deputy Brown said that none of the recommendations he had seen stated that the centre should be closed.

He then asked Mr Fitzgerald if Owenacurra had been chosen for closure on a financial basis rather than anything else.

Mr Fitzgerald firmly denied the claim and insisted the decision was made purely on the basis of the building’s condition.

He was also asked why Owenacurra was seemingly “singled out” from many other facilities with the same structural problems throughout across the country.

Mr Fitzgerald replied: “While there has been significant investment in many centres – I can speak for the CHO area across Cork and Kerry – we have significant deficits in a number of centres.

“Some will need either significant refurbishment or replacement. We have developed an overall plan from a strategic perspective around those,” he added.

Mr Fitzgerald was then quizzed on why there were no minutes taken during a series of meetings within the HSE around the closure of Owenacurra between 2019 and 2021.

Deputy Brown said: “Is it not strange that a development that would upend people's lives so much apparently took place during meetings for which no records were kept? I am involved in a residents association. If we talk about putting down a flower bed, we take minutes at the meeting.”

In response, Mr Fitzgerald said: “While we do not have a specific note on the specific decision that was made, it was I who made it in consultation with the mental health team and in consultation with my colleagues in estates.”

Commenting on the meeting, East Cork Green Party Cllr Liam Quaide described the decision to close the centre as “a clinically indefensible proposition”.

He said: “At the Petitions Committee, the HSE representatives encouraged campaigners to think about their proposals in a positive way. And yet current residents are being offered alternative placements that, in some cases, involve a major downgrade in their quality of life.”