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Care home's disabled clients endured bleak life, inquiry found

Published 06/09/2016

Disabled people in a Co Mayo care home were forced to live in dull or bleak surroundings, experts said
Disabled people in a Co Mayo care home were forced to live in dull or bleak surroundings, experts said

Disabled people in a care home were subjected to a bleak life of widespread control and conditioning, an official investigation has found.

Residents of Aras Attracta, in Swinford, Co Mayo, were cut off from the outside world and forced to live in dull or bleak surroundings following daily rituals and rigid routines, experts said.

The home is run by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and accommodates 96 men and women with intellectual disabilities.

Health chiefs ordered an independent investigation into the centre after an RTE television programme two years ago showed scenes of people being manhandled and shouted at.

A group of specialists, called The Aras Attracta Swinford Review Group and set up last year, has found "a bleak picture of life for residents" whose rights, choices and freedom were stymied.

Dr Kevin McCoy, who heads the group, said residents were not respected as individuals.

"They have suffered isolation and institutional conditioning," he said.

"There was an assumption that the residents could not contribute and do things for themselves: they have been unable to reach their potential.

"The residents have had a poor quality of life, and their voices have not been heard."

The report found residents were subjected to "institutional conditioning" which occurs when people living in institutions react, behave and conform to rituals and rigid routines, it reported.

The group said institutional conditioning is generally imposed to make life easier and more convenient for managers and staff.

"The outcomes for people living in such organisations include loss of independence, limited options and poor control over their lives," it said.

The report also criticised overcrowding and lack of privacy at Aras Attracta, with as many as four residents sharing a bedroom.

"There are few links with the local community and community organisations and many examples of missed opportunities in this respect - one resident was observed knitting in the day services centre while there is a thriving knitting club in the town," the investigation found.

"Mass is celebrated every week in Aras Attracta, but few residents attended the local church.

"There is a GAA pitch across from the main entrance to the campus yet residents who follow GAA do not attend matches."

Disability Minister Finian McGrath said the report also outlines many improvements at the home over the past two years but insisted "there is still a huge amount to be done".

"Aras Attracta is an old-style congregated setting and this Government is committed to moving people out of these settings, to allow them to lead fuller lives in the community," he said.

Pat Healy, national director at the HSE, said it was taking steps to overhaul Aras Attracta and ensure greater connections between residents and the community.

"I wish again to apologise unreservedly to the residents of Aras Attracta and their families for the manner in which they were treated," he added.

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