A family member of a vulnerable patient at the Garnish House mental health facility in Cork City says they have only received two communications from the HSE in the past two-and-a-half years regarding their relative’s placement.
Last week, the HSE’s chief officer for the Cork/Kerry region Michael Fitzgerald told the Public Accounts Committee that residents of Garnish House, a former B&B on the Western Road, are in “constant communication” with their clinical team regarding their placement and possible future movements.
This week, the HSE doubled down on Mr Fitzgerald’s claim, saying that “staff and clinicians talk directly to service users at Garnish House on a constant basis about their future plans”.
However, the family member of the Garnish House resident told the that a letter from an administrator for North Lee mental health services to their family at the end of June, in which they were informed that the “circumstances... remain under review”, was the first communication they had received from the HSE since April 2020.
That letter, which responded to a request for information from Cork/Kerry’s head of mental health services as to whether or not the family member would be returning to their pre-Covid home of Millfield House, where they had lived for most of the previous decade, was not responded to for more than two months.
It remains the only communication the family has received from the HSE regarding Garnish House since the phone call in 2020 which informed them their relative would be moving from Millfield in the hours before that move took place.
Green TD Neasa Hourigan is expected to raise the matter again at the PAC on Thursday, where the HSE will be in attendance for a second time. Ms Hourigan said last week that some of what Mr Fitzgerald had told her had been “less than representative of the truth”.
A HSE spokesperson said it is “important to point out” that all the current residents of Garnish House are “on a pathway to another community placement”. “They would not have an expectation of remaining in such a service in the long term,” they said.
However, some of the residents of Garnish House have been in continuing residential care for up to 16 years, according to the Mental Health Commission’s most recent report on Millfield House, from where most of the Garnish residents had transferred at the beginning of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, the HSE informed the staff of Millfield House that the Garnish residents would be returning there in the near future, a fact subsequently denied to the by the HSE, who said that all options, including Millfield’s sale, remained under consideration.
Last week, Mr Fitzgerald told the PAC however that when the HSE exits Garnish House early next year it will “certainly go back (to Millfield)… in the short term”.
At the same meeting, Mr Fitzgerald acknowledged that the HSE had paid the same amount, close to €1.7m, to rent Garnish House for 30 months as it would have cost to purchase it outright in 2020.