The elderly residents at the centre of a storm over sweeping cuts to residential care services face an uncertain future which looks set to see them forced from their homes.
A public consultation process is under way into the Northern Health and Social Care Trust's proposals to close all nine of its residential care home facilities.
Those against the move fear the outcome is inevitable, meaning around 150 elderly people currently catered for in such facilities will be relocated.
Yesterday there was a mixture of anger and sadness at one of those facilities earmarked for closure.
Pinewood in Ballymena is home to 10 long-term residents and has capacity for a further 15 intermediate residents.
It was claimed by some family members of those who live there that their loved ones found out about the proposal on television on Wednesday evening.
Many were trying to comfort their elderly relatives yesterday as the potential repercussions of the move set in.
Marie Jones' mother, Jean Robinson (88), has lived at Pinewood for nine years.
She said her mother, like many of her friends who also live there, was deeply distressed at the news.
"She's very happy here. Her friends are here, the staff are here. The staff are fabulous," said Ms Jones.
"She's very disappointed, she doesn't want to go anywhere else."
Ms Jones believes the consultation process is a smokescreen.
"I heard rumours about it two months ago, then a letter came to my sister on Saturday to say we had to have a meeting with the manager and a girl from the trust and that was when we really heard any detail about it," she said.
"I'm disappointed and to be honest I think it's a done deal. No matter what we do, nothing will change their minds.
"I don't see how it can be in the best interests of residents. They are going to move 10 elderly people of which one is 102. How can that be in their best interests, taking people out of a home they are comfortable in and moving them to completely strange places and probably not even all in the Ballymena area?
"I don't think they've given it enough consultation. They've just decided and don't care.
"It's all about money. The one thing that upset me was they said they don't think there's a need for residential homes any more which I don't think believe is true."
Rachel Rea (91) is currently staying at Pinewood for respite.
She was full of praise for the facility and hit out at the board for putting its future in jeopardy.
"The care in here is excellent," she said. "I don't know why they are even thinking of closing it."
Staff claimed they had been told not to speak to media ahead of the announcement on Wednesday. Some claimed they were told disciplinary action would be taken against those who spoke about the proposals.
Susan Stock, a staff member at Pinewood, said there was a feeling of "devastation".
"I am disgusted," she said. "They haven't asked the residents their choice of where they want to go, they are being evicted out of their houses. If we don't speak for the residents, who will?"
We won’t sit back and take closure |lightly, mayor tells heated meeting
By Chris Kilpatrick
The decision by a health trust to seek the closure of all of its residential care homes has been met by fury from patients, families and staff.
The Northern Health and Social Care Trust confirmed it aims to close five of its nine facilities within three years, with all residential care homes to be shut within five years.
Opponents to the move — which would cause the displacement of around 150 residents and 250 staff — fiercely criticised the plans during a heated public meeting with members of the trust's board yesterday, accusing those behind the move of putting budgets before the needs of those affected.
The board rubber-stamped a three-month process of public consultation regarding the closures at the end of the meeting, with critics expressing their belief the process is a futile gesture.
The plans are part of a wide-ranging reform of elderly care provision across Northern Ireland. The Transforming Your Care programme was endorsed by Health Minister Edwin Poots who said 50% of residential care homes in Northern Ireland can expect to close.
Bob McCann, chair of the Northern Trust board, said current provision for the elderly was unsustainable.
A delegation of councillors from Ballymena were present at the meeting.
Mayor PJ McAvoy told the board there was cross-party opposition to the proposals.
“This is just our first shot at you because we will certainly come back with a lot more as time goes on. We'll not be sitting back taking this lightly,” he said. Joe McCusker of health workers' union Unison accused the board of serving “eviction notices” on vulnerable people.
“These are peoples' homes and they should have a choice where they live,” he said. “Approving these plans puts lives and the well-being of people at risk.”
Chief executive of the Northern Trust, Sean Donaghy, said change was inevitable.
“The board is not being asked to approve closure plans today,” he said. “It's the start of conversation, nothing more than that.
“Over the past couple of years we have sought how to address fears and vulnerabilities through huge increases in the levels of domiciliary care provided and we have seen huge expansion in sheltered accommodation and supported housing options available to individuals.”