THREE troubled teens at a Health Service Executive detention centre are costing taxpayers almost €1 million each per year.
Despite swingeing budget restrictions, including an unprecedented series of education cuts whose effects will include raising the pupil teacher ratio, the HSE is this year splashing out €2.8m to run Coovagh House in Limerick — which houses just three youths.
That’s a nightly bill of more than €2,500 per teenage client — many times higher than the rate at five-star hotels.
A spokesman for the HSE said they have to fill 28 full-time posts in order to run Coovagh House.
Labour’s spokeswoman on health, Jan O’Sullivan, said: “This is crazy money. I know these kind of units can have high costs because of the intensive staffing level, but this figure for Coovagh House for three children is excessive.
“Certainly one has to ask if that money could be used in a way that it would give better value. The HSE should go back to the drawing board and see if these young people can be looked after in a different way.
“This seems to be out of all proportion,” she said.
Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said he intends to raise the matter with Health Minister Mary Harney.
“In these times, where there are major problems with funds, there must be serious questions about value for money with regard to Coovagh House and whether the three young people there could be cared for elsewhere without the taxpayer having to pay such a massive amount of money,” said Mr Collins.
The facility for troubled teenagers has a troubled history itself. Last December, two girls and a boy who were being held in the secure unit broke free after the boy abducted a male care worker at knife-point.
He forced the care worker to drive towards Dublin and the car was stopped by gardaí near Newbridge, Co Kildare, following a chase.
The girls broke free the same day after assaulting a female care worker, taking keys to the unit from them.
Coovagh House was set up to care for a maximum of five troubled teenagers but has only ever catered for three, at most, at any one time. It is designed to care for boys and girls in the 11 to 17 age group.
It was one of three such units built in 2001 on foot of a High Court order the previous year by Mr Justice Peter Kelly.
It is located on a campus which has an educational centre for children from difficult backgrounds.
Recruitment drives to get the necessary staff cost in excess of €400,000, with advertising campaigns in this country and abroad.
Although it opened for a brief period in 2003, it only came into full operation in June 2007.
It had to close in April of 2004 — just six months after its initial opening — after a complaint by one of the inmates who alleged inappropriate behaviour by staff.
The HSE funds a number of high-support residential centres around the country, at a total cost of more than €350,000 per week, and regular inspections are carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority’s (HIQA) social services inspectorate.
The HSE said the educational centre on the campus is financed by the Department of Education and is separate from the Coovagh House secure unit.
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