A local mother honoured by the Belfast Telegraph has spoken of her heartbreak at the closure of a nursing home for the disabled.
It was confirmed last night that the Northern Ireland Institute for the Disabled (NIID) nursing home at Stewart Memorial House, Bangor, is to close on April 30 due to "unsustainable financial losses."
Joyce Craig - the Belfast Telegraph's Mum of the Year - said she was heartbroken at the devastating news.
She had been campaigning to save the centre, where her son Christopher (23), who suffers from cerebral palsy, is a resident. The shutting of the home means 17 people need a new place to stay.
The NIID's decision follows 14 months of uncertainty, which included a public consultation process aimed at finding ways of making the home financially viable.
"Sadly, the 17 lovely people, including my son, who have high-dependency needs, have been told to pack their bags and leave their home within the next three months," Joyce said.
"As of today, they have no idea where they are going. My heart is breaking for each and every one of them, their families and carers and also the staff, who now have no jobs.
"We all fought so hard to try and keep our loved ones' home open - a home that we have all come to love. What a sad day."
The decision to close Stewart Memorial House brings to an end 30 years of nursing and social care at the north Down location.
NIID chairman David McIlhagger said the trustees had taken the decision with deep regret, and he added that they had no option, given the shortfall between the home's income and the continuing cost of providing high levels of care.
Blaming inadequate levels of public funding support for residents, Mr McIlhagger said that the mounting cost of running the care home was putting the entire existence of the NIID in jeopardy.
"Care at Stewart Memorial is funded through health care trusts, with funding levels that are based on professionally assessed individual resident needs and pre-determined regional tariffs," he added.
"However, in spite of individual uplifts by our local trusts, the funding received still fails to provide cost recovery for the specialist services Stewart Memorial House provides.
"Stewart Memorial House has been suffering significant losses for many years - and whilst the NIID has been able to underwrite the total shortfall of £3m up until now, to continue to do so could jeopardise the entire future of the NIID."
The decision, which a spokesman last night insisted was final, was given to the residents and their families at a meeting addressed by NIID chief executive Sam Humphries on Thursday.
The funding gap, coupled with reliance on expensive agency staff, is not just a problem for the NIID but has become an issue for the care sector as a whole, according to the NIID spokesman.
Mr McIlhagger continued: "These fundamental shortfalls have been exacerbated at Stewart Memorial House, where many residents have complex disability care needs requiring more intensive levels of resident care, which is more expensive to deliver."
He said that staff from the health trust were now talking to residents to establish where they would be cared for when Stewart Memorial closes at the end of April.
Mr McIlhagger added: "The bottom line is that we, with the residents and their families, want to deliver high quality care but there is insufficient funding available to deliver it."