Charity removed from autism units over care failures

The country’s oldest autism charity has admitted to difficulties getting services up to standard after its three residential facilities were taken out of its control by the HSE.

The takeovers, carried out in May and June, followed inspections by health standards authority HIQA which revealed serious failures in care for 48 adults living at facilities run by the Irish Society for Autism in counties Meath and Wexford.

Dunfirth Farm in Meath, the largest of the three with 34 residents, was inspected five times last year and early this year “following notification of significant incidents of concern leading to injuries to residents”.

HIQA said: “Inspectors found that residents had experienced significant injuries as a result of incidents in the centre ... the provider and staff were aware of specific, recurrent risks and had failed to put arrangements in place to keep residents safe.”

It said while staff were “well intentioned and did their best to support residents”, there were too few of them, they were poorly trained, assigned duties they were not hired to undertake and worked under “poor managerial oversight”.

HIQA said the Irish Society for Autism was offered numerous opportunities to address the failings. “This did not result in sufficient improvement,” it said.

Inadequate staff training for staff was also found at Cluain Farm, a facility caring for eight people, also in Co Meath. One of the most serious failings there was the administering of high doses of psychotropic drugs to control challenging behaviour without proper protocols for their use.

It was also found that a resident had absconded, unknown to staff; there was insufficient transport to facilitate residents’ choices of activities and the advice of a dietician and speech and language therapist had not been implemented.

At the third centre, Sarshill House in Co Wexford, home to six people, staff training was again an issue as were inadequate safeguards against peer-to-peer assault and inadequate access to healthcare professionals apart from GPs.

Inspectors found the person in charge “had only limited managerial authority to operate the centre”.

The Irish Society for Autism initially went to court to challenge the removal of the Meath centres from its control but backed down. It did not challenge the move in respect of the Wexford centre.

The charity said it had been “experiencing some difficulty in achieving regulation with HIQA”. “These have been very challenging times for all concerned including our residents and staff, many of whom have been with us for a long time.”

It said of the HSE’s takeover of its centres: “We are a small organisation and we believe that, in the long term, this decision is in the best interest of our residents.”


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