I thank Dr. Kelleher for her bravery. It is not easy telling her own family's stories. At the outset, I am well aware of the Owenacurra Centre. It is in my own town. Listening to her last statement, there is a mixture of emotions between anger and sadness. She hit the nail on the head in that the HSE is going against its own policy and the Sláintecare policy of a community-led, fully supported, totally integrated centre. Dr. Kelleher explained it, from regression years ago to where her aunt is now. I have met her aunt and many of the people in town. This is personal. I do not wear the fact that the building is not fit-for-purpose because these issues were raised as far back as 2016. There is a number of reports there. I have said at meetings, even at the one in Sarsfield Court with the HSE, that people cannot be thrown out of their homes, especially when blaming the fact that the building is not fit-for-purpose. The HSE is the proprietor and is responsible for the upkeep of that building. It has failed and is putting the pressure on the residents of the Owenacurra Centre. I have heard of something similar happening in Tipperary and not too far away from Midleton, in the Castlemartyr health centre, the exact same excuse is given, that is, the building is not fit-for-purpose. It is on the main thoroughfare, the M25. It is in the village and yet the HSE wants to locate it six miles out the road where there is no access to it. Again, it is isolating and cramming people in.
The thing that bugs me is the fact that the campaign members have worked very hard on this. A long time ago we said we would not make it political. It is not about scoring points, but it is about supporting a system that works and has worked for years in Midleton. Dr. Kelleher is right. I have seen it and I know the residents who get the bus, who go to the supermarket and who go dancing. I will put it very bluntly here. I am not knocking the other locations the HSE is talking about but they are totally and utterly inappropriate for the residents of the Owenacurra Centre because they have been integrated into the town. It is all about location and access. To add to that, my fear and that of others is that the additional services at the Owenacurra Centre, not the premises, will be lost. There were 22 beds originally. Two of those beds are short-term respite, so that the individual and the family can get short-term respite. When the individual cmes in, they got a blood test, they are made comfortable, they have a shower and their feet are checked. If they need a chiropodist, one will be found. The dentist is across the road and the doctor, the hospital and the Garda barracks are nearby and the market is out the back. If that is not a model to be replicated and invested in, I cannot figure out the HSE.
We are 12 months down the road from the original closing date and the building is not fit-for-purpose or fit for the residents. If you go back to 2016, why has it been suitable for the last six years?
I want to thank the Joint Committee on Health because it has been supportive. This is one of my bugbears. We are supposed to be the legislators and the people who look after the citizens of this country. It will call it a recommendation or a conclusion but it is like the old story of the 40,000 troops marching. The mother says, "Look, 39,999 of them are out of step, but my Johnny is the only one who is walking right". This is the game I feel the HSE is playing. I want to put the health committee's letter on the record:
In light of the above we again recommend that you reverse the closure of the Owenacurra Centre and request that Cork/Kerry HSE pursue essential building works on the premises that have already been identified in independent reports. The reasons advanced by Cork/Kerry HSE for closing this highly valued service would, if applied elsewhere, lead to widespread closures of other mental health facilities, and are not credible grounds for such a drastic service decision in East Cork. The Owenacurra Centre has consistently received higher annual Mental Health Commission inspection compliance ratings than the two nearest continuing care facilities...
The two facilities are Glanmire and St. Catherine’s ward in Cork, so you are taking it from the boiling pot and putting in the fire. In addition, these are very isolated locations.
The letter continues, "The loss of the Owenacurra Centre, including its town centre location, would involve far-reaching adverse consequences for one of the most vulnerable groups of people attending the East Cork mental health services and would constitute a regression in their care and rehabilitation."
This is the recommendation from the committee to the HSE.
It is personal because mental health services are in my blood. Between 2000 and 2002, we had 69 suicides in east Cork. It is not a proud boast but it is a fact and I like dealing with facts. We have a very large cemetery in the town and it is called suicide row. We were labelled the suicide capital of the world in 2004. These are not boasting points. We are being told one of the finest working centres in east Cork that should be replicated as a pilot project is to close and the service is not needed. The excuse of the HSE is that the building is not fit-for-purpose. When these people are gone, nobody else is going to need the service and nobody else is going to get sick. That is totally unacceptable to me and I am bitter and angry that the witnesses, as family members, have to appear in front of any Oireachtas committee to fight their cause. It could be me, my parent or anybody's parent who could end up in this service.
This service is needed in Midleton. I spoke to a lady a number of weeks ago who called to that centre looking for help. She was woken by a garda on Sunday morning just after 7 a.m. She slept in her car. She was met by the staff, who are absolutely amazing, but they could not do anything because they were under the orders of the HSE. That lady told me that she put her own vomit into a bag and put it into the boot of the car. Obviously, she had nowhere to go to the toilet, so she put that bag into the boot of the car too. If that is the way we are treating the most vulnerable citizens in this country, the HSE is nothing short of an absolute disgrace. We are treating people as PPS numbers rather than treating the person.
I will finish on the next point because, Chair, I could be here until next Thursday.
HSE management has made many dismissive comments. We have tried to engage with them. I have received numerous replies to parliamentary questions on the matter. I have the official reports with me today. I have received 600 petitions asking for this service not to close. The most important thing here is not the actual building; it is the services provided, the service users and the residents who are using the services. Family members are visiting Leinster House today. I met them last week with the First Minister-designate, Michelle O'Neill. I will put it this way and will be polite about it. We were not refused entry to the Owenacurra Centre, but we were not facilitated by HSE management. Despite that, we went to the centre and we met with residents there. The people with me on the visit remarked how integrated the residents were. The HSE could take them out of the setting and send them to St. Stephen's Hospital in Sarsfield Court in Glanmire. It has been there since the 1950s. My own grandmother was incarcerated in there because she had TB, Lord have mercy on her. If that is how mental health services for elderly people are being progressed in this country, we should be absolutely and utterly ashamed. I will leave it at that.