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01 Jul 2022

Laois warning to HSE: "We will not let anyone come into our house and take the roof from over our head"

Anger, tears dismay but also determination in Rathdowney to halt HSE relocation to Offaly

Laois warning to HSE: "We will not let anyone come into our house and take the roof from over our head"

Public meeting in Rathdowney sets out to do battle with HSE over its plans to shut Erkina House.

Tears mixed with anger at a public meeting in Rathdowney as the battle to stop the HSE from shutting down the Erkina House residential facility begun in earnest.

Public representatives joined with the community, family members and residents of the facility to voice their disgust and dismay at the health service for slating Erkina House for closure.

A group entitled Rathdowney Action Group Against the Eviction of our Residents from Erkina House organised the meetings to allow the people voice their views on the future and what steps to take.

Several family members told their stories of the facilities importance with a mixture of shock, disbelief, sadness but also anger at the public meeting in the town’s Community Centre on Thursday evening, April 21.

Among those to speak was resident Kathleen who has lived their for 16 years. 

“We will not let anyone come into our house and take the roof from over our head. We are very well cared for…We will not take this and we will fight to the bitter end,” she said.

Donna Dempsey told how her uncle’s life had been transformed since he moved there.

“When you visit Erkina House you get the sense that this is more  than a mental health facility. This is a community within a community,” she said.

She said definitive assurance was needed from the HSE on the future of the building. 

“We are completely opposed to the residents being moved out of their home in Rathdowney. The voices of the vulnerable in the community deserve to be heard. They they deserve piece of mind. They deserve more,” she said.

Marie O’Shea said her son Andrew has been a resident for 25 years. She said that when he was ill he went missing for two years, she feared the worst. When he eventually returned she did not recognise him. He received acute  hospital care before admission to Erkina.

“He loves it there. When he comes home he does not want to stay long he wants to get back. Erkina House is his home. Whoever to came up with the idea to take the vulnerable of of there needs help themselves,” she said.

Seamus Drennan is another relative. His brother Donal has been in the facility for 13 years.

“His life has changed since he came to Rathdowney. He is unbelievably happy. I can’t praise the people in Erkina House and his friends enough,” he said.

Donna Dempsey addresses the meeting.

He also praised the people of Rathdowney. 

Sharon Case spoke on behalf of her father Robert who has been a resident since it opened in 1996.

“It’s his home. It’s his comfort zone. He’s from Laois, not Tullamore. He and the 11 other residents are party of the wonderful community of Rathdowney. My father doesn’t like change. I know he wouldn’t adjust to anything new.

“The staff are not doctors and nurses, they are family. They are their strength on tough days. They are their right arm at times. They are superheroes who were shocked to hear of this.

“We all need to fight for them,” she said.

Sharon also thanked the people of Rathdowney for welcoming the residents into the community since 1996. She said their support now has been phenomenal.

She said they should not be moved to Tullamore, Portlaoise or anywhere else.

“Rathdowney is their home,” she said.

Gillian Whelan, spoke emotionally on behalf of her aunt Betty who has been a resident for 18 years.

“Erkina house isn’t just a residential house for people with mental health issues. It is a home for very important people,” she said.

Gillian said her family and Betty endured difficult times before her aunt moved into the facility.

“I can safely say that moving into Erkina house has not alone been transformational for Betty’s life, it has been transformational for her family’s life,” she said.

She said Erika house is for Betty like having friends and family. 

“That is worth so much more than any cost saving measure,” she said.

She added: “Betty would not adapt well to being pulled out of what has been her home for  18 years.”

Primrose Case said she visits Erkina House every two three weeks to see her brother in law. She said in tears that she said it was so sad to hear he faced being ‘thrown out’ out of his home after 26 years.

Ann Balfe welcomed the political unity and commended the residents and their relatives. Apart from serving the existing residents she said it must be retained to help the residents of the future. 

Elma, a former employee, also spoke about the group of people who need mental health support who are  not residents. “If Erkina House is gone, that will create a vacuum,” she said.

The meeting also told about the social care provided to the community as the kitchen supplies meals to people living at home but in need of support.

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