An exterior view of St Vincent's Care Centre, Athlone.

'Definitive timeframe' for new Clonbrusk unit urgently needed

Health authorities need to give a “definitive timeframe” for a start and finish date for the 50-bed community nursing unit in Clonbrusk which is due to replace St Vincent's Care Centre, a local member of the HSE forum has demanded after it emerged work is unlikely to begin in the first part of this year as originally envisaged.

Cllr Frankie Keena complained that the delay in getting this project underway is causing him concern as it is a known the HSE is under pressure from HIQA and he's fearful of another “Loughloe House” type situation developing where the health inspection body could close St Vincent's for non-compliance.

St Vincent's has been the subject of sustained criticism from HIQA for many years now, and the HSE has always stressed it has intended to replace it with a new modern facility.

Back in mid-2019, the HSE indicated construction was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021, on the new facility on land between the Clonbrusk Primary Care Centre and the Arcadia Retail Centre, continuing until quarter two in 2022, spanning a 14-16-month timeframe although a subsequent planning application indicated that it would take more than two years to build.

The development is one of nine community nursing units which the HSE is planning throughout the country and is seen as a modern replacement for outdated facilities.

When contacted by the Westmeath Independent recently, a very brief HSE statement indicated “work on the tender for the nine community nursing units in this public-private partnership continues and it is hoped to have an outcome and a contractor(s) appointed as soon as is practicable.”

FF Cllr Frankie Keena pictured during his term as Mayor.

While Cllr Keena, who is Vice Chairperson of the Dublin Mid Leinster HSE Forum, said he understands the massive pressure that the HSE is under during the pandemic and that Covid-19 takes precedence, he said he fears more delays.

“I do feel that the property section within the HSE needs to give a more definitive timeline for the start and finish dates for this new development at Clonbrusk.”

While Level 5 restrictions have halted construction which is undoubtedly a major factor, he maintained that the HSE “should by now have everything in place to start construction work once public health guidelines allow. I am fearful that this is not the case which is a major issue for me,” he said.

The hold-up in getting this project underway is also a concern for Cllr Keena given that it is known health authorities are under pressure from HIQA to ensure they comply with regulations that each resident has at a minimum standard of floor space available to them by the end of this year.

“The short timeframe now left is not going to allow the new build to be in place by this date so I do feel that assurances and clarifications needs to be provided to residents and their families as soon as possible.

“For instance, I would have deep concerns if the HSE, even in the short-term, decided to reduce the occupancy within St Vincent’s Care Centre to be compliant with HIQA. The repercussions of this throughout the community for existing and possible future residents would be worrying and severe,” he added, saying he has sent a letter to the HSE asking them to request an extension from HIQA

“It is very important that we avoid the same situation arising in St Vincent’s Care Centre as what happened with Loughloe House a number of years ago where HIQA forced its closure due to non-compliance,” he said, welcoming the the “significant progress” made between the HSE and the South Westmeath Hospice Committee in relation to moving the hospice to the new facility when built.

A spokesperson for HIQA said regulatory compliance is a requirement for renewal of registration of any nursing home.

It said the regulations have set December 31, 2021 as the date by which a provider must comply with a requirement to ensure that each resident has as a minimum of 7.4 square metre floor space.

However, the statement suggested that a provider may achieve compliance without building a new centre, for example, by reducing the occupancy of rooms and/or committing to ensuring that no more than four residents will occupy any bedroom in the centre by early 2022.

Separately, the HIQA statement warned that if there is a “sustained pattern of regulatory non-compliance additional restrictive conditions may be attached to the registration of a centre” like, for instance, a condition to reduce occupancy.

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