Laois parent demands full education for people with disabilities 'left behind in Covid'

Lynda Kiernan


Lynda Kiernan

Laois parent demands full education for people with disabilities 'left behind in Covid'

People with disabilities have been left behind during the Covid-19 pandemic, says the chairman of the Down Syndrome Ireland Laois branch.

Michael Gorman’s son Eoin, 25 has Down Syndrome and Michael says services for Eoin have fallen “far short” since the pandemic hit, with no sign of resumption.

The bus service for Eoin and others attending Rehabcare Portlaoise daily was stopped, putting extra pressure on often elderly or possibly medically vulnerable parents to drive their children to get to the reduced day care service still offered.

Michael believes that people with disabilities are being treated like “second class citizens” as regards extra government support during Covid-19.

“My son has no clear plan of action or identified pathway to get him back to full time day service provision since COVID – 19 hit. Since last March he has received only one hour per week home visits. While these visits are very welcome, it falls far short of what is required in terms of our son’s mental health and well-being and getting him back to some sort of normality in his life,” he said.

Below: Michael and Mary Gorman with son Eoin. Photo: Denis Byrne

Michael says it is a similar situation for others with disabilities across the county.

“The same goes for his peers in the disability sector in Laois. Eoin has had a couple of short days also, but I have had to drive him to Portlaoise for these visits and bring him home again.

He said that transport to Rehabcare is only given to those who ask for it, despite the service being funded by the state.

“Last week I was dropping him off (having taken two days holidays to do so) at his Day Centre in Portlaoise, only to find another service user being dropped off by taxi. On further enquiry I learned that only service users from the Portarlington area were getting taxis to the Centre. When I queried this with the service provider I was told that they were in negotiations with the HSE for further funding and hopefully would have that sorted quite soon.

“I have a couple of issues with this, where is the funding that the service provider has been receiving but not using for transport since March, could that funding not be used in the interim? With the huge investment in mainstream schools in getting them ready to be COVID – 19 compliant, why is there a need for negotiation with the HSE in terms of transport funding to get our adults with an intellectual difficulty to their Day Service Centre. Should this not be a given,” Michael asks.

Some members of the Down Syndrome Ireland Laois branch used a hub in Portlaoise that is no longer available to them.

“There is no real information around their pathway back to full time Day Service provision for them either. The service providers have been receiving full funding over the last period of time in terms of transport etc but our family members have benefitted very little from that funding, which is essentially their money, without them the funding would not exist,” Michael claimed.

“The issues around mental health and well-being, and regression from lack of contact with their peers is not treated seriously enough either, the huge pressure on parents especially mothers is also not being given the seriousness and urgency it deserves, given the huge efforts being made in terms of investment in mainstream schools being refurbished to make them compliant.

“People with disabilities would be entitled to feel like they are being made second class citizens yet again by those in authority when it comes to prioritisation of services for those with disabilities, as opposed to those in mainstream.

“The powers that be, need to get their act together, sooner rather than later, and treat our families with the same dignity and respect shown to others in our community,” Michael Gorman said.

“Yes, Rehabcare staff are now going to pick Eoin up from home and drop him home again in the evening time on the two days he is in, which helps me out of our predicament. However, there may be other families who are not getting a service and who are not aware that some service users are getting some bit of a service. It must be a level playing field for all,” he said.

Rehabcare Ireland has responded with this statement.

“Due to the ongoing prevalence of Covid-19, RehabCare, like all disability providers, has had to reassess how service users travel to and from all of our services. Covid-19 guidance in regard to social distancing and infection control presents many challenges for the provision of transport to and from Day service locations. RehabCare has had to assess our transport fleet in line with Covid-19 guidance and agree the number of service users that can be transported safely at any time.

“Our centre in Portlaoise supports 60 people. Before Covid-19, up to four service users could safely travel by taxi at a time, however under new public health guidelines this has been reduced to one.

“The centre is in the process of engaging an additional taxi company to transport more service users and are awaiting Garda vetting to be completed. Staff at the centre are also transporting service users in the centre vehicle where possible.

“Affected service users and their families are being engaged with and kept up to date and are aware of the issues we are experiencing. We are also continuing to engage with the HSE in relation to this issue and are exploring alternative options. We appreciate the cooperation of our service users and their families during this time.

"While our centre was closed, our dedicated RehabCare staff remained at work, providing outreach supports, activity packs, virtual programmes, phone support and video chats to the 60 people using this service. Although our centre has now re-opened, on-site service delivery within the centre itself has had to reduce due to strict social distancing guidelines in order to keep everyone safe, as is the case in all resource centres, Day centres and educational facilities across the country.

“Whilst capacity at the centre has reduced, our staff continue to provide support off-site. Some of the people in our RehabCare services have underlying health issues, therefore a personal plan has been created for each individual with regard to their routine and face-to-face support within the centre.

“Our staff are doing everything they can to ensure that each individual is provided with a community of care. As ever, we will continue to prioritise the safety of the people in our services and our staff by working closely with our funders to meet all the best practice guidelines in line with public health advice. That is our number one priority."