St Brigid’s Hospital in Shaen is the favoured location to temporarily house 26 residents of St Fintan’s mental hospital in Portlaoise, while a new unit is built for them over the coming two years.
However hopes that this may save the future of Shaen are unfounded, as the plans are based on the possible closure of the elderly care unit for its existing residents.
The new 50 bed purpose built mental health residential unit will be built on the grounds of the red brick hospital on the Dublin Road, originally built in 1832. The plan is in line with a national policy to close all 19th century mental health hospitals.
The new unit will cater specifically for psychogeriatric (old age with mental health aspects) patients. It is currently at planning stage, with the €6 million construction cost said to be approved.
It is good news for St Fintans, but possibly not so for Shaen, as Mental Health managers are basing their plan on the presumption that Shaen will soon be closed.
A ministerial announcement on the future of Shaen and of Abbeyleix CNU, expected last September, has yet to be made.
However last week on local radio, the Secretary General of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, Des Kavanagh revealed the Mental Health Service’s plan to use Shaen for their patients. He says he has no knowledge about Shaen’s future.
“The mental health people have to plan. They have been told by the Mental Health Commission that St Fintan’s has to close. They are working on the presumption that there has been pressure on Shaen or Abbeyleix. If they had a choice to accommodate (their patients) it would be Shaen. I understand it represents a good alternative. There is pressure on to close St Fintan’s as soon as possible, we have got to look at an alternative,” he said.
There are two wards left with patients in St Fintan’s, one with ten patients, to be transferred to a Respond facility in Abbeyleix. The other with 26, planned for Shaen if it closes.
Mr Kavanagh says they new unit is needed for the patients.
“We have to consider the mentally ill, and I will fight for those. In Laois and Offaly there is an aging population, and the longer people live, the bigger a chance of developing dementia,” he said.
Mr Kavanagh said he was surprised at the negative response to his announcement.
“In terms of Laois Offaly to have a purpose built unit on St Fintan’s, I am amazed at the reaction. If Laois Offaly does not want this unit, other places would be glad to have it, then there would be uproar in Laois. There has to be sense here,” he said.
The HSE confirmed the project is underway but didn’t confirm the cost of €6 million, as stated by Mr Kavanagh.
“The HSE Capital Plan 2011 - 2016 includes a project for a new 50 bed mental health residential unit to provide replacement accommodation for residents of St. Fintans Hospital, Portloaise. The timeframe indicated for completion of this project is 2014 and planning is underway,” a spokesperson said.