Before I read the opening statement, I would like to acknowledge the fact that we are with the committee again this week. We thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss Owenacurra with it. I apologise for last week. We were in the middle of a red alert in counties Cork and Kerry. Colleagues, including myself, were quite busy throughout that day, as members can imagine, ensuring that patients, residents, staff and our premises were intact and safe during the course of that spell. We apologies for that, but it was a weather piece that we obviously could not avoid. I wanted to mention that before I commenced.
As the Chairman outlined, I am joined by Mr. Jim Ryan, head of operations, mental health services; Dr. Sinead O'Brien, executive clinical director of Cork mental health services and consultant psychiatrist; Mr. Mark Kane, assistant national director of HSE estates; and Mr. Kevin Morrison, acting head of mental health services, Cork Kerry Community Healthcare.
The Owenacurra centre is a mental health services continuing care unit in Midleton, County Cork. It is registered with the Mental Health Commission to provide a service for 24 people for psychiatry of later life, continuing mental health care and mental health rehabilitation. There are currently 15 people resident in the centre. Cork Kerry Community Healthcare advised the mental health subcommittee in its hearing on 21 September 2021 of the difficult decision taken in June to begin the process of ceasing services at the Owenacurra centre.
The background to the decision was that it became clear following an assessment of the information available that the current building environment and layout did not allow for the needs of a modern residential centre. The centre had also been criticised by the regulator on a number of occasions. Initially, the plan was to refurbish the centre but, as we moved to the more detailed planning stage, serious concerns emerged that any level of such refurbishment could not bring the building to the standard required. Advice from external construction experts, along with HSE estates, which was shared with the committee previously, informed the HSE in its difficult but necessary decision to close the centre. This was not our original plan for the valuable services at the Owenacurra centre and, although it was a difficult decision, there was no other option open to us.
The immediate priority remains the welfare of the remaining residents of the centre. We have been working and continue to work with each resident individually and to consult their families to agree an appropriate alternative placement based on their assessed needs and will and preference. Residents will be moving on a phased basis and the planning on that work is ongoing. Discussions with residents and their families are led by a consultant psychiatrist and multidisciplinary team. Specific meetings with family members continue at this time as suitable placements are being identified. In order to keep residents and families informed throughout the process, a key contact lead is available to support and act as a facilitator between residents, their families and the project team.
A residential-type setting for several residents is being sought locally to provide a supported model of living which may, with some further rehabilitation, suit the needs of some residents in the medium term. It is important to state the emphasis is on supporting people with mental health needs to remain independently living, where possible, in their own homes and communities. There is an extensive community-based service operating in the local area, including a home-based treatment team and multiple specialist services. A possible location has been identified to restore the day service in the town and negotiations are under way in respect of specific premises.
When it has been vacated, the Owenacurra site will be used to build supported living accommodation for mental health service users. Discussions have commenced with the local authority to explore options in that regard. These discussions are at an early stage and we will proceed with developing proposals to this end in the coming months.
The closure of any centre, particularly one that provides residential care to service users, causes concern and uncertainty for residents and families. We understand that the Owenacurra centre has provided a valuable service to residents in a unique location for many years. The HSE, however, is committed to working closely with the residents to find appropriate alternatives suitable to their needs. The original timescale for the closure of the centre was six months. This has been extended to ensure additional time is provided for the transition of residents to the appropriate settings.