Former medical centre staff left in limbo after closure

BOUNCED cheques and emergency tax rates are among the difficulties faced by former staff of a private hospital in Cork city which closed just five months after it opened.

Nine former employees of the €90 million Cork Medical Centre (CMC), including Kay O’Mahony, former director of nursing, received payment of wages at the end of February — only to find the cheques bounced days later. None of the 75 staff at the facility in Mahon Gate, outside Cork city, was paid for days worked in March.

The hospital closed on March 10, less than two weeks after 19 additional staff were hired. The developers of CMC, the Sheehan Medical Group, blamed the closure on the decision by the VHI to refuse cover.

Ms O’Mahony, who left a lecturing post at the School of Nursing in University College Cork (UCC) to take up her new job, said many of her colleagues had re-located from other parts of the country to take up what they assumed were permanent positions.

“I left a good job at UCC. Unfortunately, CMC was not a healthy career move,” she said. Ms O’Mahony described efforts to keep staff abreast of developments at CMC as “poor, to non-existent”.

“There was no communication with staff for a week and a half after the temporary lay-offs and eventually Philip [Sheehan, chief operations officer] emailed myself and two others and asked us to communicate on their behalf with staff.

“I responded saying it was not my responsibility to do so and that any communication should come from Sheehan Medical or their legal representatives,” Ms O’Mahony said.

Staff continue to have difficulty accessing P45s, meaning those who secure alternative employment end up paying emergency tax.

Staff had been led to believe the hospital could continue to operate for six months despite funding difficulties on foot of assurances from Dr Joe Sheehan, father of chief executive James Sheehan, and co-founder of the Blackrock Clinic. They were also assured they would be paid at the end of March for days worked that month, Ms O’Mahony said.

Another former CMC nurse, who did not wish to be named, said she gave up a permanent job to work at CMC. She faces the prospect of moving abroad and letting out her house to cover her mortgage. “I don’t know where my future lies. I am devastated. I was incredibly excited to get this job and I really believed in the hospital, I still do. I loved working there.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which represents some of the nursing staff, criticised CMC for hiring more staff less than two weeks before closing.

INMO industrial relations officer Michael Dineen said: “They knew at that stage that they were in difficulties. Any responsible employer would have told staff where they stood, yet they have had no direct contact, instead depending on the goodwill of former staff to keep other ex-employees informed.”

Mr Dineen said while CMC Medical Operations Ltd had “ceased to trade as an entity” there were “sister companies” within the Sheehan Medical Group that continued to trade and had the resources to meet payments due to staff.

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