Yesterday, more than 50 family and friends gathered outside the hospital, angered at the short notice they received of the move which will see their elderly relatives dispersed onto other wards throughout the 132-bed hospital.
While the HSE says the closure of the Sacred Heart unit, which opened in 1996, is a temporary measure, families say a “temporary” closure of another unit in the hospital last year, St Enda’s, proved permanent.
The closure sees the loss of 13 rehab, 12 long-stay, and two respite beds, impacting on physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and palliative care. Seven of the beds have been closed since January.
The HSE is understood to have ordered the closures amid patient safety concerns related to nurse shortages.
One patient has been transferred to the Dunabbey House care facility across the road.
Many of the families have expressed anger both at the closure and how the HSE orchestrated the move.
Orla Glascott whose mother Madge, aged 93, is the unit’s second longest resident at 13 years, said she received just four hours’ notice on the day, having been told some days ago that the unit would be closing, temporarily, in midweek.
Nan O’Brien from Dungarvan, whose mother, Mary, aged 71, has lived at the Sacred Heart unit for five years, reported a similar experience.
Ms O’Brien said that her mother was admitted following a stroke.
Since then, she suffers from severe speech and movement difficulties and needs 24-hour care.
She said Mary has developed a vital bond with unit staff and was “heartbroken” at yesterday’s turn of events.
“Mum was actually too upset to leave and after insisting she wasn’t going, she was allowed a final 24 hours at the unit” said Ms O’Brien.
She described the hospital as “the hub of the community” and said the “invaluable level of activities and care” the patients have received has made it “a new home” for them.
Yesterday’s protest was organised by Waterford Labour county councillor John Pratt who said he was “extremely disappointed with the decision”.
Mr Pratt said that the closure has “angered and upset not just those with family in the hospital, but the wider west Waterford community”.
The councillor said one patient was informed of the closure last Friday but her family only learned of it yesterday.
Mr Pratt said yesterday’s protest was a quickly organised response and anticipated “a larger and more concentrated show of support” today.
He added that efforts to contact either the HSE or the hospital management during the bank holiday Monday proved fruitless.
Fianna Fáil TD for west Waterford Mary Butler described the HSE’s decision to move the closure over the bank holiday weekend as “underhanded” and “deeply cynical.”
Ms Butler criticised the HSE for acting “without consultation with families or the local community”.
He stressed that “the importance of this unit to the people of west Waterford cannot be under- estimated”.
The HSE was unavailable for comment.