HSE unable to provide figures on cost of renovating Cork mental health centre

Dr Sinead O’Brien said suitable options in East Cork are being “explored” as placements for the residents of Midleton's Owenacurra centre
HSE unable to provide figures on cost of renovating Cork mental health centre

The Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, which is scheduled to close by the end of October.

The HSE has insisted it is not practical to rebuild or renovate an under-threat mental health centre in Cork, but officials were unable to provide figures on the cost of such a project.

Addressing the Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health on Tuesday, representatives of HSE Cork/Kerry community healthcare said the decision to close the Owenacurra centre in Midleton at the end of October was “not taken lightly.” Committee members urged that the closure be delayed as families and medical experts have called for Owenacurra's services – residential, day and respite – to be re-housed instead of shut down.

Chief Officer of Cork/Kerry community healthcare, Michael Fitzgerald, said he reluctantly decided on closure based on reports highlighting that the building is in “very poor and unacceptable condition with major defects.” Surveyors warned it is not clear whether even extensive renovation would make it “fit for purpose”, he said.

However, he was unable to provide figures for the cost of renovation or rebuilding to Green party spokesperson on mental health Neasa Hourigan.

She queried a 2019 survey that found refurbishment would require “asbestos present in the fabric of the building” to be removed, asking if this was considered a risk why it was not acted upon. Mr Fitzgerald said a safety issue would only arise if the asbestos were disturbed. 

Committee members, including Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley, said the HSE has a duty as landlords to maintain the building.

Mr Fitzgerald said: “The residents' will and preference is our priority,” saying placements take this into account, but accepted that communication should be improved with families and residents.

Executive clinical director for Cork Mental Health Service, Dr Sinead O’Brien, said “a thorough multi-disciplinary assessment” was done for each person. Labour TD Sean Sherlock urged “pause for thought and some reflection”, cautioning “putting people into a ward setting and out of a single-room setting is a Dickensian and backwards step.” 

Fine Gael TD David Stanton also called for a delay, suggesting the completion of a new community hospital under construction locally will give the HSE more options.

Dr O’Brien said suitable options in East Cork are being “explored”. However, they would not comment on fears the more isolated St Stephen’s Hospital outside Glanmire is being considered for residents. 

On Wednesday, Mental Health Reform will tell the Oireachtas Health Committee that the €10m announced last February for mental health impacts of Covid-19 “has not yet been spent”. They will call for an additional investment of €85m. 

Meanwhile new “crisis resolution teams” will be piloted in Waterford and South Kilkenny early next year for adults with severe mental health difficulties. They will provide “short-term, intensive, multi-disciplinary assessment and supports” at home said Mary Butler, Minister for Mental Health and Older People. 

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