New era as home finally opens in Dingle

Residents and staff welcome transfer from Dickensian institution, says Donal Hickey

IT was a long time coming and people in Dingle, Co Kerry, yesterday breathed a huge sigh of relief when a brand new community hospital finally opened its doors.

Shortly after 8.30am, the first patients, Jack Kavanagh, aged 103, and Padraig Lynch, 91, moved into the €16.4 million building, having been transferred from St Elizabeth’s Hospital, which dates to famine times.

“Like the Gresham Hotel!” was the smiling Padraig’s first reaction as he surveyed the bright, spacious building, a world removed from the Dickensian institution left behind.

A fleet of six ambulances transferred the 43 patients throughout the day. The operation was completed by mid-afternoon.

The hospital had been due to open on July 27 but that had to be postponed at short notice to allow time for the HSE to bring the building up to the standards required by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

In order to obtain HIQA registration, the HSE since carried out recommended changes to the layout of the hospital and en-suite facilities, as well as improving privacy in patients’ shared rooms and recreational and dining areas.

But senior HSE personnel stressed yesterday it was now all positive news, with satisfied patients and families.

Padraig Lynch, who worked for 55 years as Dingle parish clerk, had the company of his sister, Eibhlin, and nephew, Pádraig Ó Sé, as he settled into his four-bed room.

The sprightly nonagenarian, a bachelor, got up at 6.15am each day for early Mass, never smoked, only had an occasional drink and does not believe in taking tablets.

“I’d rather stay awake all night than take a sleeping pill but I might have an odd whiskey,” he confessed.

Among the happiest people were Shane and Maura O’Connor, who sold the land for the hospital for a nominal sum after being approached by the then matron of St Elizabeth’s, Annette Cremin, more than a decade ago.

The site was on a suitable, accessible location on the eastern side of Dingle, Mr O’Connor pointed out.

He also said, however, it had been “extremely frustrating” to be looking down at the completed, though unopened, hospital every day for the past two years.

“But we’re absolutely delighted for the patients, staff and everyone concerned today,” Mr O’Connor said.

The hospital which has as a wide range of community supports including convalescent care, respite care, hospice care and direct GP admissions, heralds a new era in healthcare in the Dingle Peninsula, according HSE local health manager for the Kerry region Michael Fitzgerald.

“The hospital has been designed and built to ensure the utmost comfort and optimal care facilities for patients now and into the future,” he said.

Nevertheless, the day was tinged with nostalgia for many of the staff moving from the old hospital, where some had almost 40 years’ service.

For clinical nurse manager Mary Fitzgerald, it was a “very emotional day” as memories of patients and staff she knew down the years came flooding back.

“We were like one big family here. Many of the staff were local, so they knew the patients very well,” she said as the last few patients were being moved out.

“A lot of us would also have been native Irish speakers so patients from the Gaeltacht felt very much at home with us,” said Nurse Fitzgerald, who worked in St Elizabeth’s for 38 years and is looking forward to being in the new hospital.


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