Pensioners Could Die If Care Home Is Closed, Warn Families

Pensioners in a Co Down residential home could die if controversial plans to close the facility go ahead, their families claimed today.

Skeagh House in Dromore is home to 18 elderly residents and provides invaluable respite care for dozens of others.

The home, which has been a Dromore institution for about three decades, is among a number of residential care facilities earmarked for possible closure by the Southern Health and Social Services Trust. And relatives of those living at the home say the uncertainty is putting their loved ones under intolerable strain.

The plans are part of a provincewide re-organisation of elderly care for which public consultation closes next month.

However, the residents and relatives in Dromore have vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to keep the facility open and have launched a major campaign to save Skeagh House.

So far thousands of Dromore locals have signed a petition opposing the closure and the Skeagh House Action Committee is gearing up to lobby politicians at Stormont. And one 91-year-old resident has even written to the Queen requesting a reprieve.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from Dromore, David Nelson, whose 87-year-old mother, Mary, is a full time resident at Skeagh House, accused the Southern Trust of penny pinching.

He said: “She almost died from heart failure last year and suffers from congestive pulmonary disease. She has already been forced out of one residential home due to closure and she may not survive another distressing move.

“I think it would be terrible if Skeagh House closed. My mother suffered from panic attacks when she was left on her own throughout the day and would have felt sick, bad and unwell when she took these panic attacks. Since she moved into Skeagh House where there is 24-hour cover she has had no panic attacks.

“This is a money saving exercise, I am sure. It’s not about care for the elderly and I am sure that everybody feels the same. I think it would cause terrible upset and if my mother has to move it could end up killing her and a lot of others too.”

Meanwhile Joan Russell, a member of the Skeagh House Action Committee added: “We just feel that the trust has targeted the most vulnerable and defenceless in society.”

Mrs Russell’s 89-year-old mother, Jane Gorman, has been living at Skeagh House for the past nine years is adamant she will not be moved.

“These resident have been subjected to distress and uncertainty about their future. It is very, very unfair. My mother is no more interested in living anywhere other than Skeagh House. She feels it would be second class compared to Skeagh House. This is where she want to spend the rest of her days and she has vowed not to move,” said Mrs Russell.

Among those receiving respite care at Skeagh House is 94-year-old Margaret Gamble — who lives at home with daughter, Roberta Young. Mrs Young, who suffered a major heart attack in 2004 requires the assistance of a defibrillator and believes she would be unable to cope if her mother’s two week respite was stopped.

“The trust is proposing respite care in the home but that will not work 24/7; it will not help the carer get complete rest,” she said.

Cherrie Arnold, whose 89-year-old mother, Cherrie McCollum also attends day care at Skeagh House sees the facility as a “lifeline.”

She said: “My mother suffers from a number of physical conditions associated with old age. These include osteoporosis and angina as well as mobility problems after hip surgery. In addition to the physical ailments my mother suffers from dementia which leaves her frequently confused, stressed and anxious.

“Being a carer is not easy, it is hard work both physically and emotionally. And taking on the role of primary carer for my mother has meant changes to our lives with attempting to balance work and our home life, and whilst caring for my aging mother.

“The day care services provided by Skeagh House are a lifeline. The services allow me to continue my daily work at home which although hard work, brings me a break from caring and allows me time for domestic activities. The respite also allows me to retain some identity other than that of care giver for my mother. The knowledge that at some point in the future this respite will be available is critical in allowing my husband and I to keep going.

“The standard of care and respect my mother receives in Skeagh House and the knowledge that she is with carers and fellow residents she knows and is comfortable with makes it a lot easier. Knowing that she is well cared for and not distressed during these respite breaks allows me and my husband to have this time without constantly worrying about her welfare.”

The Southern Health and Social Services Trust says it welcomes the consultation and that no final decision has been taken.

Brendan Whittle, Assistant Director for Older People’s Services apologised for any anxiety being caused to residents.

“The trust would like to apologise again for any anxiety this proposal may be causing to Skeagh House residents, family members and staff. It has always been our aim to ensure that the impact of this consultation process on residents is kept to a minimum. We understand and regret that this is very difficult time for everyone involved. The trust understands that it can be very painful to move away from traditional and cherished ways, but it is only by gradually letting go that we will be able to develop more modern types of accommodation and care that the next generation of older people have told us they would prefer.

“I would like to take the opportunity, once again, to confirm that no decisions have been made at this stage.”

During a debate in the Assembly on trust proposals to close residential homes, earlier this week, Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said savings had to be made.

The UUP man also said he would make any final decisions on contentious proposals.

“It is right that people are concerned about the damaging impact efficiency savings could have on our health service. My department has to find some £700m over the three-year Comprehensive Spending Review period. This enormous sum of money, which is the largest of any department, must be found within a budget that is already stretched to its limit.

“We already spend around £630m supporting our older people. However, if we are to continue to meet the needs of our growing elderly population, we need to ensure that we are using these resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.

“I want to stress my commitment to looking after our most vulnerable members of society. Our elderly population have the same rights to health and social care services as everyone else. I will continue to improve and invest in services for the elderly to ensure that they have access to the very best our health service can provide.”