Care of the Elderly.

I thank the Minister for being present to reply to this matter. I raise this matter in light of the fact that 30 staff members and 25 residents were informed at separate meetings last Thursday that Loughloe House, a HSE-run nursing home, is to be closed within two months. The nursing home has been situated on this site for 30 years. It is a relatively modern building on the banks of the River Shannon. It is ideally situated. It is all on the one level and, therefore, there is no fire hazard or other such risk.

The bottom line is that the 25 residents were informed at a meeting separate from the staff that Loughloe House is to be closed within two months. However, the Health Information and Quality Authority has informed me that the HSE has not yet responded to the report that it carried out on the nursing home. I find it incredible that the HSE is making a decision to close the nursing home without at least publishing that report or letting public representatives, the families of the people concerned and the staff know how much it would cost to carry out the necessary work to bring the nursing home up to the required standard.

The news of the closure of Loughloe House has left its residents, some of whom have been living there for 20 years, in shock. They are to be relocated to private nursing homes and this has caused widespread upset and distress. Residents, especially those who are relatively fit and mobile, have told me that they are extremely comfortable in their surroundings and are familiar with the other residents and staff. These people are their family and this is their home. They are familiar with the smell and the texture of the place. If I had been living in a centre for 20 years, I would not want to move. A move to alternative accommodation is completely alien to them. How will it affect their health and well-being?

The content of the HIQA report should at least be made public before a decision is made on the future of the facility, as should the number of inspections to which the facility has been subjected and the opportunities Loughloe House has been given to rectify any inadequacies. If this facility is as bad as has been alluded to by the HSE, how was this allowed to happen? That is the bottom line. The manager of the HSE is in charge of it. How has this been allowed to happen if the facility is as bad as has been stated? What steps have been taken by the HSE to resource the centre?

There is genuine fear about the effect this change will have on the residents, some of whom are in their 90s and some of whom have no families to speak on their behalf. I am concerned that the shock of having to move to unfamiliar surroundings will cause them undue stress, adversely affect their health and may even cause some of them to die. That is a very dramatic statement but that is my concern.

The possibility that a care centre has not been staffed, adequately funded and allowed to fall into a state of disrepair to facilitate its closure must not be tolerated. The announcement by the Minister, Deputy Harney, in Athlone on Sunday that the closure of Loughloe House will free up staff for another facility was inconsiderate and dismissive of the residents' feelings and their plight.

I hope the Minister will not give me a pat answer from the HSE as I will not be able to cope with it because I am emotionally involved with these people. They are my friends and they are old people. I ask that this decision be stalled until at least the contents of the HIQA report have been made known and the issues of the necessary funding and cost involved to bring the facility up to the required standard can be dealt with.

I thank Senator McFadden for raising this issue which is obviously a sensitive one for the residents and their families. The Government is committed to supporting people to live in dignity and independence in their homes and communities for as long as possible, but where this is not feasible the health service supports access to quality long-term residential care where this is appropriate, and we continue to develop and improve health services in all regions of the country and to ensure quality and patient safety.

The Health Service Executive has sole operational responsibility for the delivery of health and social services, including those at facilities such as Loughloe House. The Senator is obviously well aware of Loughloe House and is very familiar with its residents. It is a former welfare home and shares the site with day services for older persons for the area.

All developments have to be addressed in the light of the current economic and budgetary pressures. The executive has been asked to make a rigorous examination of how existing funding might be reconfigured or re-allocated to ensure maximum service provision is achieved. In particular, we need to ensure the highest standard of care will continue to be provided to all patients in a safe and secure environment.

As a welfare home Loughloe House once accommodated up to 40 patients of lower dependency. In recent times, given the increasing dependency of clients and other challenges, the number of residents has fallen to 25. Of the 25 residents, the longest resident has been there for 14 years while the most recent arrival was a year ago.

Loughloe House is one of two long-stay facilities in Athlone, the second being St. Vincent's community nursing unit, CNU, which is situated in the town centre. There is only a distance of approximately a mile between the two units. In St Vincent's CNU there are approximately 60 residents. There is the one management structure for the two units.

At a broad strategic level, the overall plan for HSE services in Athlone had been to transfer all services to the Clonbrusk area of the town where lands were purchased by the Midland Health Board in 1999. This would have allowed the proposed Clonbrusk campus to become the hub for HSE service delivery in Athlone. This plan would have facilitated the closure of Loughloe House as well as allowing several other premises to be vacated. In anticipation of these plans, spending on existing infrastructure, including both Loughloe House and St Vincent's, was limited in recent years. That answers the Senator's question as to the reason there was no investment in the facility. It was intended to move services to the Clonbrusk site. Given the current financial constraints, the anticipated developments at Clonbrusk have been curtailed and the construction of a new community nursing unit on the site has been postponed for the foreseeable future.

As a result of this there are significant challenges for both Loughloe House and St. Vincent's in meeting the necessary HIQA requirements, given the design, age and conditions of the two buildings.

Loughloe House has been inspected by HIQA. Numerous concerns have been raised in the course of this inspection both in terms of the physical infrastructure and in regard to management and staffing issues. Concerns also exist regarding the fire safety precautions at the home. With these considerations in mind, the Health Service Executive has decided that it has no option but to proceed with the orderly, phased closure of Loughloe House.

There will be a consultation process with residents and their families with a view to organising transfers into private or public nursing homes in the surrounding areas. This consultation was scheduled to be taking place around this time. There are more than sufficient vacancies to cater for the residents of Loughloe House. The safety of the residents is our first concern. We owe them a duty of care. I am sure the House will agree that quality care and patient safety comes first and all patients should receive the same high standard of quality-assured care.

The Minister for Health and Children does not have any further update since the report that was completed on 29 April, but if the Senator wishes to raise the matter again with the Minister, she will have it re-examined and obtain more up-to-date information for her.

Could the Minister ascertain how much it would cost to bring Loughloe House up to the standard HIQA requires? I am not talking about St. Vincent's, only about Loughloe House.

I will have to put that question to the Minister for Health and Children.