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Deputy Michael McNamara

Closure of rehab unit raised in Dáil

THE “unacceptable” temporary closure of a rehabilitation unit at St Joseph’s Geriatric Hospital in Ennis was highlighted in the Dáil on Wednesday by Deputy Michael McNamara.
The shutdown of this specialised unit on Friday last was raised by Deputy McNamara, after his initial attempt to secure a discussion under ‘Topical Debates’ last week was not allowed.
The facility has a total potential capacity of 142 beds, including 22 that are consultant-led and are utilised for the purpose of rehabilitation for appropriately identified patients’ post acute care – medical or surgical.
In a statement issued to The Clare Champion, the HSE stressed, “This is not a closure of the rehabilitation unit but only a temporary measure, for the shortest period of time possible and will not affect the patients receiving their rehabilitation care”.
The authority pointed out the 14 patients that were transferred into another ward are still receiving rehabilitation.
When Deputy McNamara learned about the closure, he was told there had been an incidence of mumps and on that basis, one member of staff had to stop working temporarily, in case it was transmitted to patients.
“The HSE used many different words and assigned new meanings to words.  I was told patients would have to be moved around the hospital but there would be no reduction in services.
“A week later, I visited the hospital and there was a padlock on the rehabilitation unit.  Most of the patients had been moved to other units which were, to my non-informed eye, grossly overcrowded.
“Staff morale was low. It is entirely unacceptable that this happened in a week when the Government suspended the business of the Dáil for three days to congratulate itself on having saved the country, if not the world.
“I am not raising this issue in the Dáil to criticise the HSE or the director of nursing for the decision taken because I assume she took the only decision available to her, namely, to close the particular ward for reasons of patient safety.
“There simply are not enough staff on duty in St Joseph’s to keep the ward open.  I speak as somebody who has had a family member in that ward in the past 12 months,” he said.
There are conflicting reports about the length of this closure, varying from 17 to 23 days. It seems the latest suspension is the longest since it closed its doors for two weeks during Christmas 2013.
Housing Minister Paudie Coffey, who responded in the absence of Health Minister Leo Varadkar, said the HSE is responsible for the delivery of health services and hoped the rehab unit would re-open in two weeks.
Expressing disappointment with Minister Varadkar’s failure to respond to this issue on the day, Deputy McNamara pointed out the Dáil was responsible for the overall allocation of funding to the HSE.
The overall number of patients in St Joseph’s has fallen from about 160 four years ago to 114 now.
The Clare Champion has learned that eight patients were removed from the rehab unit to the male long-stay unit and four women were transferred to the long-stay female unit on Friday.
The number of patients in one of the male long-stay units increased from 32 to 41, without any apparent increase in nursing staff or multi-task attendants (MTAs).
SIPTU health industrial organiser, Ger Kennedy, said he understood the rehab unit is being closed on a temporary basis for 17 days, due to an infection control issue.
Stating a number of nurses had recently gone out on sick leave, he confirmed ongoing difficulties relating to the availability of nursing staff in St Joseph’s would be raised at a meeting with HSE management this Thursday.
In a letter to staff, HSE Mid-West community healthcare chief officer, Bernard Gloster, outlined he was taking the “unusual step of communicating with all staff in the hospital on this issue” because he was concerned that “public confidence in the hospital may be eroded by inaccurate information, which has been put into the public domain by sources not known to me”.
Mr Gloster also stated it has been brought to his attention that a number of suggestions have been made recently that the rehab unit in St Joseph’s is closing.
“I wish to confirm, for all staff, that it is not the case, nor was it ever intended that such an impression would be created,” he stated.
Regarding the comments attributed to Deputy McNamara about space in St Joseph’s, the HSE outlined the issue about space in St Joseph’s has been the subject of reports and public discussion.
“St Joseph’s Hospital continues to experience a pressure in staffing because of the layout of the building, difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff and the limited ability of the approved provider of agency staffing to service this hospital.
“However, the hospital has and continues to function, providing appropriate care.
“In addition to routine staffing pressures and limited agency availability, the facility has been presented, in recent days, with a significant additional challenge. Unfortunately, a particular health issue has arisen for a staff member that has also resulted in health surveillance for four additional staff, who are all off duty in the short-term as a precautionary measure,” the HSE stated.
It is understood that no patient contracted mumps from a staff member following these precautionary measures.
The HSE will continue to monitor and review the situation and any decisions made will be to ensure the best possible care for all of the residents currently in the facility.
Dan Danaher

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