The niece of a resident of the Owenacurra mental health facility is set to tell an Oireachtas committee how her family is “terrified” of the impact the centre’s closure will have on their loved one.
Orla Kelleher, whose aunt Anna has lived at Owenacurra for more than 25 years, will tell the Oireachtas Petitions Committee of the “anxiety and worry” her family has suffered as a result of the HSE’s decision to shut the facility due to alleged insurmountable issues with the building’s structure.
Anna is one of just 11 residents remaining at the centre from the 19 who lived there when the closure was first announced in June 2021.
That closure decision has been protested vehemently from within the locality, with residents and their relatives alike mobilising to try and keep the centre in its current situation in Midleton.
“Life has not been easy for Anna but being in the Owenacurra Centre has given her the chance to live the best life she can,” Ms Kelleher will tell the committee this afternoon.
“When Anna first arrived at the Owenacurra Centre, she found communicating with other people very difficult. However, over several years of rehabilitation and with the support of the staff in Owenacurra, Anna gradually found her feet,” she will say.
She is expected to outline how the protracted closure, which was originally slated for last October but which has been delayed as alternative placements have not been found for all residents, has been “cold comfort” for residents and their families.
Ms Kelleher will state that her family has had just three consultations regarding their aunt’s future, discussions which have “raised more questions than answers and only increased our anxiety and worry about her future”.
The suggestion that Anna might move to an institutional setting having spent years on a closed ward was “very distressing” for her family, she will say.
“The whole process to date has taken a severe toll on Anna and our family,” Ms Kelleher will say.
“For Anna, the past 12 months have been extremely difficult. She has clearly expressed her wish to remain in Midleton at the Owenacurra Centre, which is her home.”
Ms Kelleher is set to call on the petitions committee to write to the HSE’s board calling for the decision to close to be overturned – echoing the same move by the Oireachtas Health Committee last week.
“Families and others involved in the campaign want the Oireachtas Health Committee’s detailed refutation of the closure to be upheld by the HSE,” she will say.
“The Owenacurra Centre campaign isn’t solely about current residents,” she will tell the committee, but also “the many other people in east Cork with severe mental illness who require placements of varying duration to attain a decent quality of life”.
The campaign is “not about a few vocal families holding out against the HSE’s planned closure,” she will say. “It is about a broader regional need into the future for a very vulnerable group of people.”