Families in rush to secure new places as Derry dementia unit closes
A failing care home in Londonderry is closing its specialist dementia unit, with families given just 48 hours to find alternative accommodation for their loved ones, it can be revealed.
The unit at Owen Mor Care Centre, which is understood to provide enhanced care to six people, is due to close today.
At least one family have been told their relative will be taken by ambulance to Altnagelvin Hospital's A&E this afternoon if alternative accommodation cannot be found.
It is the latest devastating blow for the family of 76-year -old Joseph Stewart, who has Lewy body dementia.
His daughter-in-law, Ciara, last night said: "We're still trying to absorb the information.
"It has really come out of nowhere and we're just out on a limb waiting to hear what is going to happen.
"We were told at a meeting with the Western Trust on Wednesday night that the home doesn't have enough staff to staff the unit after Friday but we had no idea it was an issue.
"We knew there had been problems with staff levels before but we thought they had been addressed. It's all a real worry."
There are concerns it may prove impossible to find suitable accommodation for the six residents currently living in the specialist dementia unit, due to a shortage of spaces in care homes across Northern Ireland.
The Western Trust pays £1,400 per week for each patient that it places at Owen Mor Care Centre.
The home hit the headlines earlier this year after it repeatedly failed to meet minimum safety standards in areas including the management of medication, wounds and falls and staff levels.
One inspection discovered there was no record of the number or type of wounds occurring in the home, while the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) also raised concerns about infection control.
The centre was closed to new admissions in May after the RQIA raised concerns about the welfare of residents. The home was given until June 26 to address the concerns.
A spokesman for Owen Mor said they were confident the problems would be "rectified much sooner". However, a number of conditions of registration were imposed on the home in August after the RQIA deemed that it was still failing to meet basic safety standards.
Aidan Hanna from NI Patient Voice said he was horrified by the latest development.
"It is unacceptable for anyone, whether they have a learning disability or dementia, to be admitted to a hospital when they don't need to be there," he said.
"There is the possibility that these people will end up in a hospital for no other reason other than there is nowhere else for them to go, and they will remain there indefinitely. It is hugely distressing for the families, especially when they do their research and see the poor outcomes for dementia patients who are moved from their homes."
The Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, said he is disappointed that the providers at Owen Mor had decided to close the high dependency unit at such short notice.
"I fully empathise with the residents affected by this and the stress and anxiety this may cause them and their families," he said.
Mr Lynch said that he had met officials from the Western Trust earlier in the week and had received assurances they were doing everything possible to reduce the impact on residents and their families.
The management of Owen Mor did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, Joseph Stewart's son, Michael, spoke out after he received an apology for the care his father received at the home. Mr Stewart said his dad's catheter bag was frequently allowed to fill with blood and his soiled nappies were not changed.
He said: "It has just been so degrading for my father, it is as if they think he is not there. Of course he is there. He knows what is going on half the time."
At the time, the home's management said it was working with the RQIA and the Western Trust to address "four outstanding compliance issues".
A spokesperson for the Western Trust said "This is a difficult time for the small number of residents and families affected.
"The Trust does not comment on individual residents. In circumstances when there is a change in the package of care we will always work closely with residents, their families and Owen Mor Care Centre to manage the transition and find suitable alternative accommodation that meets each resident's individual needs.
"The Trust will remain in regular contact with the families throughout this transition period."