Belfast Pine Lodge care home closed before minister gave approval, claims Unison
A care home run by the Belfast Health Trust is being closed without the minister's approval, Northern Ireland's largest health trade union has claimed.
Unison said Pine Lodge in east Belfast, a respite facility with 40 beds, will be closed within weeks - and all without the input of Health Minister Michelle O'Neill.
For two years, a regional review had been looking at how state care homes in Northern Ireland were being used.
The process was halted last year by the previous minister, Simon Hamilton, after seven private care homes in Northern Ireland were closed. Mrs O'Neill has said she "has not made any final decisions" about Pine Lodge but added that "any decisions that need to be taken in the interim period will be an operational matter for the Trust".
Unison described the statement as a deflection. Joe McCusker, Unison's regional organiser, said he believed that "once the building is vacated, it is Belfast Trust's intention not to re-open it for residential care".
Mr McCusker said he now questioned who was really in charge: "Does the Health Minister consider the closure of Pine Lodge as an operational matter for the Belfast Trust alone given the regional review?"
Marie Heaney, co-director of older people's services for Belfast Trust, said a steep decline in resident numbers made it impractical to keep Pine Lodge open.
"Obviously the minister's in charge, there's no doubt about that," she said.
"This is an operational decision we've made in the context of the larger decision on Pine Lodge not being made by the minister. We simply can't keep a facility open with staff 24/7 with nobody there to look after."
She continued: "This is not a new story. We're caught in this position where we don't have any residents, staff are anxious about their futures, and we're making a temporary redeployment offer to them."
Asked if Pine Lodge had a future she said: "I don't know, I don't know much about this minister.
"She might want to re-open the home. But that would require capital investment and the staffing would have to be looked at again."
She said a growing trend towards care at home was also a factor.
"For seven years this home has been kept open. Unison say by not taking in permanent residents we were creating the conditions for closure, that's not true. Admissions were declining, we had 50% empty beds. Older people came and saw the rooms and turned it down. No-one wants to live in a single room with no en-suite."
Yesterday afternoon outside Pine Lodge, one woman visiting a resident told the Belfast Telegraph: "I think it's a shame if it closes, it's a very nice place and my friend, she's very comfortable in there at the moment. I think the staff here are very helpful and kind to the residents."
UUP councillor Jim Rodgers, whose own mother had stayed in Pine Lodge, called the closure a "major blow".
He said: "I'm really disappointed and I would ask Michelle O'Neill to reconsider this. It's a facility that's needed for many people coming out of hospital until such times as they're ready to go to their own home."