Bernie Childs with her husband Victor who formerly spent several weeks a year in St Brigid’s Hospital as a respite care patient
Jane Jones, who cares for her mother Noreen Allen, is devastated at the closure St Brigid’s Hospital. Picture: Anne Marie Magorrian
Carer Jane Jones fights back tears as she recalls the moment last December when she was told of the closure of St Brigid’s Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir.
She returned home from Australia to Castle Park, Carrick-on-Suir five years ago to help her father Michael care for her mother Noreen, 85, who suffers from dementia.
For Jane and other family carers in Carrick-on-Suir and its large hinterland, the respite and convalescent care St Brigid’s provided was an essential service that ensured they were able to continue caring for their sick and infirm loved ones to the best of their ability.
Her home is situated just behind St Brigid’s Hospital and up to its closure last spring, her mother spent a few weeks there every year either receiving respite or convalescent care. When her dad underwent shoulder surgery, her mother also spent some time in St Brigid’s as Jane couldn’t care for both of them at the same time.
“When we found out the hospital was actually closing I think I just cried for a week. I can’t believe they have taken it from us,” she says, her voice full of emotion.
Jane describes the care her mother received at St Brigid’s as “faultless”.
“All of my family members went in there for respite and convalescent care and some unfortunately for palliative care. A lot of my family have passed away at St Brigid’s. It had always been a fantastic, wonderful service for the town.”
She said the hospital’s location in Carrick meant she and her dad, other relatives and friends were able to regularly pop in to visit her mother when she was there. The familiarity of the surroundings in St Brigid’s and regular visits greatly help dementia sufferers like Noreen.
The weeks her mother spent in respite care were an opportunity for Jane to recharge her batteries and even take a few days’ holidays. “You can’t do without it really. My mum is quite easy to care for but caring is 24-hours a day, seven days a week.”
If the HSE and Government won’t invest in building a new hospital or upgrading the existing building, she feels strongly the respite, convalescent and palliative care services it provided must still be available in her hometown because they are greatly needed.
“The hospital building is one thing; we all have a romantic attachment to it but I believe more that we need the services in the town. If they are not in St Brigid’s so be it but they can’t take these services from us.”
Jane hasn’t received a respite break in 18 months. It’s not just because of St Brigid’s closure; she wouldn’t have wanted to send her mother to a hospital or nursing home over the past year because of the Covid threat.
Now due to the rollout of the vaccine programme and tiredness, she has in the past week put in a request to her local public health nurse for a respite break and is waiting to hear back from her.
They haven’t yet been told whether respite places will be made available at local nursing homes. Jane is adamant though that she won’t be taking up the respite break if her mother is offered a week in St Theresa’s District Hospital in Clogheen or Cluain Arann in Tipperary Town.
These facilities are simply too far away for her family, particularly her father, to visit.
Jane’s aunt Bernie Childs, who cares for her husband Victor (78), agrees wholeheartedly.
Victor suffered a severe stroke 10 years ago that affected the right side of his body and robbed him of his independence.
Like Jane, the couple live in Castle Park just a stone’s throw from St Brigid’s, which provided vital respite care for Victor before its closure.
St Theresa’s and Cluain Arann have also been mentioned as possible respite care alternatives to St Brigid’s but at 73 years of age Bernie doesn’t feel confident driving long round trips to and from either to visit Victor. And due to their distance from Carrick, he wouldn’t get the frequent visits he formerly did at St Brigid’s from family and friends living locally. “I would feel so guilty. I couldn’t do it to him,” she says.
A number of HSE home help workers assist Bernie with caring for Victor daily. He used to stay at St Brigid’s for a week of respite care every two months.
His last stay there was in mid-March last year just before the hospital was redesignated as a step down care facility for Covid patients and then closed a short time later.
“The respite breaks were very important to both of us. It was a break for him and it gave me time to myself, to get things sorted and to have a little break if I needed a holiday.
“St Brigid’s was so handy and the people there were so fantastic.
“If I was going away my daughters, grandchildren, friends and even his carers could pop into the hospital and see him.”
She points out Victor knew the hospital and its staff well and often shared respite breaks with the same patients. That familiarity provided great assurance to him and to Bernie any time he stayed there. She felt she never had to worry about him.
When she was told in December of the decision to close the hospital, she burst into tears.
Bernie, like Jane, also has direct experience of the palliative care service St Brigid’s provided. Her sister, who died in 2009, and her brother, who passed away in 2018, both spent their last days in the hospital’s palliative care suites, where close family members were also able to stay.
“They were absolutely lovely rooms.
“There was a sitting room area for family and visitors off the room the patient was in. It was just unbelievable.”
She points out the people of Carrick-on-Suir raised a lot of funds for the palliative care suites and now they have been cleared out.
She was among those who fundraised. For her 70th birthday, she asked family and friends to make a donation to the hospital in lieu of giving her a present. “We raised €1,100 and it went straight down to St Brigid’s.
“When my brother and sister died people donated money to the hospital instead of giving flowers. Most of the people in the town did that. It’s such a shame. It’s disgraceful.”
Bernie and Jane have taken part in the Save St Brigid’s campaign of protests over the past six months to press for its reopening and draw attention to the plight of families like theirs.
So too has Maura Logan from Fiddown in Carrick’s county Kilkenny hinterland. She is a former patient of the hospital. The 74-year-old spent three months convalescing in St Brigid’s between February and May 2019 after breaking her leg in a fall. Maura, who lives alone, wasn’t allowed to put weight on her leg for three months after the fall so she was admitted to the District Hospital.
She returned to the hospital a year and a half later for two weeks’ convalescence after knee replacement surgery.
She is full of praise for the care and attention she received from St Brigid’s medical staff, whom she described as very skilled and experienced.
Maura was also very impressed by the hospital’s cleanliness and the standard of the food including the variety of the menu. “It was a home from home, better than home,” she says.
Indeed, the hospital’s close proximity to her home was a major help to Maura in her recovery because she was able to receive regular visits from family and friends and importantly her GP.
“If the nurse thought I needed to see my doctor, she would get him to come in. If you had to go to Cashel to convalesce you would be dealing with doctors who didn’t know you,” she argues.
Jane, Bernie and Maura are united in their anger at what they see as the underhanded way the authorities closed a hospital that served their community for 183 years without consultation with the people who needed it most.
“It’s a crying shame,” declares Jane.
The HSE Responds to Carers' concerns
HSE/South East Community Healthcare says it is reviewing respite care needs in Carrick-on-Suir and south Tipperary now that Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions are being eased.
The HSE listed St Anthony’s Unit in Clonmel, St Theresa’s Hospital in Clogheen and Cluain Arann in Tipperary Town as HSE facilities where convalescent, respite and/or palliative care services are available.
It explained that during the Level 5 restrictions, it was not possible to provide scheduled inpatient respite care given the requirement to self-isolate for two weeks. Respite care had operated only in emergency situations and this was continuing.
“Now that Level 5 restrictions are being eased, the HSE is reviewing respite need in the Carrick-on-Suir and south Tipperary area as necessary,” said a HSE spokesperson. “The HSE does not discuss individual cases but can do so directly with an individual and/or their family,” he added.
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