If the people of Abbeyleix and Pportlaoise had been properly informed from the outset would they still have objected?
When I hear the word “hospital” I automatically think of beds arranged in rows in a ward. The lack of privacy alone in such an environment would, in my view, make it totally inappropriate as a setting in which to end one's days. I have no idea if that image is correct in the case of Abbeyleix or Shaen – I have never been inside either. What is obvious is that the present occupants of those places are perfectly happy there as are those occupants’ friends and relatives.
On the other hand both facilities were designed and constructed at a time when little thought was given to the cost of maintaining a comfortable temperature throughout the year. It seems more then likely that both establishments are extremely costly to heat and maintain and that considerable investment would be required to bring the energy rating of those buildings up to a modern standard so that the heating bills could be substantially reduced and, in the process, the nation’s carbon footprint reduced.
It so happens that I live close by to a recently opened 'state of the art' nursing home of which I have had the opportunity to inspect the interior. Each resident has a private room where they may, if they wish, install some of their own personal effects, even small pieces of furniture. Opened early in 2011 this facility is, at the time of writing, no more than 50% occupied. It happens to be one of the places being mooted as alternative accommodation for the current residents of the two facilities facing closure.
Conspiracy Theories Abound
It is easy to sense a conspiracy in which HSE officials create the conditions in which people are provided with no reasonable alternative than to move out of a public sector establishment into private care. I have no doubt that, whether for genuine or sinister motives, that is what lies behind this situation. What is totally unacceptable is the apparently underhanded way in which the state of affairs has been brought about.
If the powers that be had taken the courage to be open, honest and transparent in their decision making and said two or three years ago to the communities of Abbeyleix and Portlaoise “look, these places have outlived their usefulness. It is costing far too much to keep them running; there are much more comfortable places in which senior citizens can be accommodated and we want to phase out these older units and instead subsidise the cost of placing older people who can no longer cope at home in such establishments.”
If they had backed this up with independently audited figures; if they had set a timetable for gradually reducing the population of each hospital and given the last few remaining patients time to get used to the possibility of moving into a better place, then my guess is that people would be complaining not about the closures but about the fact that the plan was running behind schedule as it surely would be.