- 15 Sep 20
The controversy about the decision to close the care home in south Dublin, run by a company wholly owned by the Sisters of Charity, deepened today with the publication of a damning report by HIQA. Hot Press has also seen a letter written by the CEO of Dublin City Council Owen Keegan which may turn any prospect of the sale of the houses paid for by the council – or the land on which they stand – into a legal battle.
HIQA and Dublin City Council have both, in separate developments today, taken a strongly critical stance on different aspects of the decision to close the care home at St Mary’s Centre (Telford) – in which the Sisters of Charity play a significant role.
A new report published by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), is carefully scathing in its assessment of the performance of those in authority in the controversial centre, revealing that residents of the social housing units at the facility were “very distressed and worried.”
In particular, the report states that the needs of blind residents living in Homes and Apartments of St Mary’s Centre (Telford) were not prioritised by the provisional liquidators, Baker Tilly, who were chosen by the directors of the operating company. It is highly critical of the fact that residents were never consulted about a decision to appoint liquidators to the company running the care centre.
Shockingly, the centre was also found to be delinquent in relation to fire evacuation arrangements.
In all, 17 centres are the subject of reports released by the health authority earlier today. Thirteen of those centres were deemed to be in proper compliance – and some are the subject of considerable praise from their residents, and by extension from the authority.
The opposite is true of the units at St Mary’s Centre (Telford).
FAILED TO RESPOND
HIQA says that this facility failed to meet standards set by the health authority; and that it did not provide reassurance and appropriate care to residents of its housing units for adults with disabilities.
“On Friday 24 July 2020, the Chief Inspector was informed that the providers of the centre sought and had been granted a High Court order for the appointment of interim liquidators to the company,” the report states. “HIQA immediately sought assurances that there were adequate resources and staff in the centre for the weekend and conducted an inspection, focused on the impact for residents and the overall management of the centre, on 28 July 2020.
“Inspectors found that residents were very distressed and were worried about their apartments. Inspectors also found that the provider had not consulted with residents or given them information about the appointment of liquidators.
“A number of non-compliances were identified in areas such as oversight of the centre and fire evacuation arrangements. Inspectors required the liquidators to take immediate action in relation to areas of concern. Inspectors continue to monitor this centre closely."
The Religious Sisters of Charity own the property on which St. Mary's Nursing Home is located on Merrion Road, Dublin 4. Several houses and apartments for blind women are located on the same property.
The premises used to be an all-girls boarding school for blind students, run by the religious congregation. Several former students of the blind school now reside in the nursing home and in the public housing units located on its campus.
Hot Press recently learned that the building of the houses and apartments on the site, in the 1990s, was funded by Dublin City Council (DCC), with the express objective of opening a path to home ownership and independence for individuals who would otherwise be shut out. Under the agreement between the Council and the Sisters of Charity, the sisters were required to use the homes “for Social Housing [for] older/disabled persons” for 20 years.
The term of the contract between the Sisters of Charity and Dublin City Council had recently ended. It was against this background that a decision was taken by the owners and directors of St. Mary’s (Telford) to close the facility and remove the residents – with the apparent effect that the buildings would then be treated as the property of the nuns.
Hot Press asked Dublin City Council about the exact status of the houses, for which the council had paid. A spokesperson for the Council told us in response that the nuns had indicated to them that social housing units on the campus would be used to house vulnerable women beyond the term of the agreement.
Hot Press was also told that the congregation, as well as their provisional liquidators, had failed to respond to queries from Dublin City Council about the fate of blind residents who had been living in Council homes on their property.
LOSING THEIR PETS
Now, Hot Press can reveal that the Sisters of Charity have been hit with another bombshell, which will at the very least significantly delay any plans they may have to offload the site or part of it.
Hot Press has seen a letter, addressed to one of the residents, from the Chief Executive of Dublin City Council, Owen Keegan. In it, Owen Keegan states that the proposed liquidation – which is opposed by the relevant trade unions and by families of residents and has not yet been authorised by the High Court – should not impact the operation of social housing units.
"The City Council's position,” Owen Keegan writes, “is that the liquidation should not affect the residential units which were funded through the Government's Capital Assistance Scheme by the City Council.
“We have been in touch with both the Order and the Liquidator in relation to this matter.”
Bernadette Casey (pictured) is a blind woman who also has a speech impediment. She has been living in one of those houses on the site owned by the Sisters of Charity for the past five years. Bernadette told Hot Press that she is extremely worried about her own fate – and that of her guide dog.
“We want our voices to be heard,” she says about what is an escalating conflict with the Sisters of Charity, and the companies running the centre on their behalf. “We felt trapped and distressed. We only know that there is going to be another court hearing on September 23.”
She said she was unsure if she could get to keep her guide dog, in the event of being effectively evicted by the nuns, and forced to relocate.
This issue was briefly noted in HIQA’s report, although there was no mention of the words ‘guide dogs'.
“[Residents] explained the important role their pets had in their life and worried about the prospect of losing them as they might not be able to bring them to alternative residential services,” the report said.
THE TWO NUNS WHO OWN COMPANY
As already outlined in Hot Press, the St Mary’s complex is the adjoining site to where St Vincent’s Hospital currently stands. Plans to locate the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the site have proven to be highly contentious, with concerns being expressed that the religious ethos of the Sisters of Charity might by stealth be imposed on the operations of the hospital – with the result that access to abortion would become very restrictive. This has been denied by the St. Vincent’s Hospital group, though many find their reassurances unconvincing, given the established Church doctrine of "mental reservation" which allows lies to be told to protect the position of the institution.
There is no doubt that if the National Maternity Hospital is built on the site, the value of adjacent lands will increase substantially – and many observers believe that this is the real reason for the decision to close the care home, opening up the possibility of a hugely profitable sale of the land – or parts of it – by the Sisters of Charity.
The company that operates the care home, St Mary’s (Telford) Limited, announced its decision for gradual liquidation on 3 June, 2020, promising a “careful and considerate” approach to pushing residents out of the complex by the end of the year. William Corkery, the centre's general manager, cited a lack of funding for meeting HSE and HIQA requirements as the reason for the closure.
A significant number of the campus’s nursing home residents have since been forced to leave, while long-term staff members have been laid off without pay. As of today, Hot Press understands that only three residents remain in Loyola, one of the two nursing home units at the heart of the centre.
Although the Sisters of Charity have denied any involvement in the new developments, Sister Teresa McAllister, a Sister of Charity, is listed as one of the current directors of St Mary’s (Telford) Limited, according to the company’s liquidation petition to the High Court seen by Hot Press.
Two sisters, have also been named as the company’s only stakeholders, each owning 50 per cent of the shares.
The company's constitution states that it is run according to the ethos of the Sisters of Charity including “quality, compassion, advocacy and justice.”
A PLACE THEY FEEL SAFE
While a potential confrontation between the Sisters of Charity and Dublin City Council is looming, the HIQA report will likely see political pressure mounting on the nuns to reverse their decision to shut the entire facility. Today’s damning report is a result of an examination by HIQA of the Telford public housing units, carried out on 28 July 2020. The report states that – in clear contradiction of the stated ethos of the nuns – a caring and considerate approach was not adopted by the liquidators. But it is those who own the company – ‘the provider’ – and have been central to its operations, that are most directly in the firing line.
“Overall, inspectors found that the provider had not prioritised the welfare and security of residents,” the report states bluntly. “Residents were not informed of the providers' decision to seek voluntary liquidation, and at the time of the inspection, the provider had not communicated with residents to alleviate their anxieties, clarify their queries or provide information on what was planned for their homes.”
At the time of HIQA's visit, 19 residents lived in the Council homes for disabled women on the Merrion Road campus.
The residents of those units are not all old: their ages range from 30 to 80, as HIQA inspectors Marie Byrne and Andrew Mooney have noted.
“Some residents described the centre as their haven and a place where they were safe,” the inspectors wrote. “They explained that the unique configuration and layout of the centre enabled them to build relationships with other residents and this was very important to them.”
All of that is now to be lost to the individuals involved – unless a change of plans is forced on ‘the provider’.
HIQA has also noted a shortage of staff with the “right skills, qualifications and experience” to meet the needs of those residents.
Hot Press understands that to meet this requirement, managers at St Mary’s centre had reached out to the company’s nursing home staff, who were laid off in late August, asking them to assist disabled residents of the centre’s public housing units.
“But they had been working with elderly residents,” one former staff member who requested anonymity said. “They are not qualified or trained to provide social care of the kind required.”
The damning nature of the report continues.
“The provider had identified a requirement to recruit a further four full-time staff including two nurses and two care staff but had not progressed with that recruitment,” the HIQA report states.
As observed by HIQA inspectors, the person in charge of supervising blind residents of St Mary's public housing units was left with little support in carrying out her duties, and the individual confirmed this to the health authority.
It is also noted in the report that the provisional liquidators had failed to confirm to HIQA that the staff had “the basic safeguarding requirement of Garda Vetting.”
AT THE EXPENSE OF WORKERS
Speaking to Hot Press about the issue today, People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett accused the Sisters of Charity and the managers of St Mary’s Centre (Telford) of ‘heartlessness’ for standing behind the actions of the provisional liquidators.
“I think the fact that the liquidators took no account whatsoever of the human beings involved in this liquidation with disability and blindness or the consequences for them or their guide dogs having to be moved to other accommodations just shows the complete heartlessness and lack of humanity involved,” he said.
Speaking in the Dáil last week, Richard Boyd Barrett also raised the issue with the Minister of State for Public Health, Frank Feighan TD, urging the State to stop the liquidation of St Mary’s Centre. He described the insolvency as ‘manufactured’ at the expense of workers and vulnerable residents.
“The Government needs to step in and do something about it,” Boyd Barrett said. “The social housing elements of this, it was originally funded by Dublin City Council; the services were funded by the HSE; but the Sisters of Charity owns companies who run this and they have manufactured an insolvency, and are looking for a liquidation that they should not get.”
Acknowledging Boyd Barrett’s concerns, Minister Feighan said that the HSE had advised the company not to go through with insolvency.
He said the move was unexpected and “contrary to what the board of management had advised the HSE up until previous weeks.”
“An independent advocacy unit is currently being utilised for residents requiring care,” he said. “I did hear your frustrations Boyd Barrett, and the fear and the anxiety of the workers and the patients, and you have asked the Government to step in. I understand that the HSE is engaged with the [Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation] in relation to the staff.”
Richard Boyd Barrett indicated that he was not satisfied with Feighan’s response.
The HSE had previously told Hot Press that, as the Sisters of Charity owned the land at St Mary's, a public takeover of the residential care facility was not presently feasible.
The Sisters of Charity had claimed that they could not afford a redundancy package for the workers.
The company’s liquidation application has been deferred twice to date, and the case is due before the High Court again on 23 September, 2020. Staff and residents have held vigils outside the High Court during both hearings to date. They said they were thankful for the support of the community in Dublin, in particular those at Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre.
A solicitor for the staff and residents of St Mary is asking the court to grant leave for the appointment of an independent examiner for the evaluation of the company’s viability.
According to the Charities Regulator website, for the period between December 31, 2017, and December 31 2018, the gross income at St. Mary's was €5,975,458.
Hot Press understands that solicitors working with residents have asked Baker Tilly to provide access to the solicitor, for all residents –¬ but this has not happened.
Meanwhile, Bernadette Casey told Hot Press that she is not leaving her home.
“I’m fighting to stay