Campaigners raise a glass as care homes' futures secured
Campaigners fighting to keep open seven care homes earmarked for closure have vowed to keep battling after it emerged two of the facilities would remain open.
Four Seasons Health Care has announced it is in the advanced stages of selling Oakridge Care Home in Ballynahinch and Antrim Care Home as going concerns, meaning that both will remain open for the foreseeable future.
While it is good news for the residents living there, the future of the other five homes in Donaghcloney, Garvagh, Belfast and Armagh remains unclear, with 162 residents facing the trauma and upheaval of finding a new facility and moving there.
It also emerged last night that while Oakridge Care Home will stay open, some residents have already moved because its future had been at risk.
Jenny Grainger, whose 82-year-old father Michael lives at the Co Down home, said: "It is sad that this has happened and they have had to go through this when the future of the home has now been secured.
"There has been a lot of time, effort and worrying done by people over the last week trying to find alternative accommodation after we were told Oakridge was going to close.
"We do feel that Four Seasons hadn't actively been looking for buyers for the homes until the closures were made public and we started our campaign, so we want to keep on the pressure.
"We are asking the Health Minister and MLAs to work to ensure the remaining homes are sold as going concerns, as opposed to (being sold to developers), so that the residents living there don't have to move.
"Today has shown what is possible. There is still a bit of a journey for the other five care homes under threat, but we will be behind them and continue our fight."
Staff and the relatives of residents living at Oakridge gathered at the facility yesterday morning to be given the news that the axe-threatened home would remain open after all.
It came more than a week after Four Seasons Health Care announced that it was planning to sell seven of its homes in Northern Ireland because they were running at a loss.
A statement from the company last night revealed that the business was in advanced discussions with care home operators about the future of the Oakridge and Antrim facilities.
Hutchinson Care Homes is interested in buying Antrim Care Home and the Spa Nursing Home Group is interested in Oakridge Care Home, the firm indicated.
A spokesman for the company added: "We had come to the decision to close the homes with great reluctance, and so we welcome the possibility that they will continue to provide care.
"We will do everything that we can to help facilitate a smooth transfer of these homes to new ownership with no disruption to the care of residents and continuity of employment."
The announcement by Four Seasons on November 24 threw into chaos Government plans to cut the number of statutory care homes across Northern Ireland, with more care being provided in privately run facilities.
Not long after, Health Minister Simon Hamilton was forced to take action to halt the proposed closure of a number of trust-run care homes.
He ordered a review of the plans by the Health and Social Care Board, but last night a spokeswoman from the Department of Health, Social Care and Public Safety said it was not known when this would be finished.
The sale of the two care homes is subject to both legal agreements and Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority registration of the facilities.