PEOPLE will keep protesting until the HSE listens, was the overwhelming message from the protest against the closure of Abbeyleix District Hospital on Sunday last. An estimated 3,000 gathered in the town for the protest despite bitterly cold weather, and many said they would protest again and again to save the hospital.
Seamus Deegan from Ballyroan was born in 1957 in Abbeyleix Hospital, and his mother passed away there in 1997.
“It would be very sad to see it close, the HSE won’t listen and their mind is made up. It is a home from home and the patients will have to go to a strange town and hospital if it closes, and that will kill them. Imagine if someone came to your home and told you to get out,” he said.
Margaret Walsh from Shanahoe, who worked in the hospital until a few years ago, told the Leinster Express that if the hospital were to close it would be very hard on the patients, as well as the many day care patients.
“It’s like a home away from home for them, they get their hot whiskeys at Christmas, Easter Eggs at Easter, they are never short of anything. They get clothes washed, showers, dinner, even their hair done. There is a lot more to the hospital than meets the eye,” she said.
Her husband Pascal said that there was a great sense of community.
“The lonely in the community are brought in to play cards, they get their shopping done, and there are people calling to their doors every week to check on them,” he said.
Bill Bergin from Coolrain told the Leinster Express that it would be a big blow for everyone in Laois if the hospital closed.
“I’ve had neighbours and relatives in the hospital and they were as happy as Larry there. The HSE are not on it at all, it is plain to be seen how much money they are wasting,” he said.
“It is happening in too many places, every day people are lying on trollies in hospitals and the old people that are there could be here in Abbeyleix,” added John Lalor from Ballyroan.
A number of community groups were present at the protest including the High Nellies groups from Abbeyleix, Durrow, Clough/Ballacolla and Mountrath. Paul Cranny from Abbeyleix, whose two parents passed away in the hospital said that: “You have to experience it yourself to understand the value of the hospital. The HSE are a disgrace, they are not consulting people, it is all behind closed doors and it is most unfair. People power is the only thing we have,” he said.
Fellow club member Patrick Parkinson, also an Abbeyleix native, said the protest would grow.
“We need to know where our money is being spent. Any development at the hospital has had local support. We can’t lie down and die and stick our heads in the sand. We’ll protest again, and we’ll go to Dail Eireann,” he said.
Michael Igoe from Shanahoe Community Alert said that the HSE have been driving his blood pressure sky high.
“They don’t seem to get anything right. They haven’t been listening so far, but I hope they do. But we will come out again,” he said.
Abbeyleix Active Retirement were also out in force and member Larry Kavanagh said there must be a future for the home
“We’re next in and we want to protect the beds for us,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by Mary Carroll.
“It is an absolute scandal, and a mortal sin to close it, the care there is second to none. At our age we want to stay near home, there is no place like home”.
The message from the Laois Vintage Group was loud and clear on the day - cut big fat pensions and keep the hospital open.
“The HSE are treating patients like dirt. They won’t make contact with anyone. They are being underhanded but you can’t beat people power”, said Ballybrophy man Jim Kelly of Laois Vintage.
Abbeyleix Social Services were also marching.
“We have been 38 years in existence and the hospital provides meals for us. If it closes we have nowhere to go”, said Lil Clooney. “It is very bad, there has been a complete breakdown in communications, but hopefully the HSE will listen”.