Tuesday 23 May 2017

Controversial nursing home left open despite HSE closure plan

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

A CONTROVERSIAL nursing home was able to continue operating for a year-and-a-half after the HSE decided it should be shut down.

The Irish Independent has learned that the HSE planned to refuse to reregister Upton House nursing home in Clara, Co Offaly, in the middle of last year -- but never followed through on the decision.

The home was eventually formally shut down by a judge last week, but not before at least two residents suffered serious injuries there.

A HSE official served notice in May 2009 that the executive intended to refuse to reregister the home because of a number of significant breaches of regulations which its owner had failed to address.

The nursing home's owner, Maureen Flanagan, told HSE officials she would go to the courts to fight the move, which would have effectively forced the home to stop operating.

Subsequently the HSE decided not to proceed with the threat as it was about to cede responsibility for nursing home regulation to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

Within months, fears over the running of the home were realised when a frail 95-year-old woman sustained a fracture when she fell from her bed and an elderly man also suffered a bad fall in a separate incident.

Serious questions were later raised over the care of both residents. The woman had not been identified by the home as being at risk, despite suffering previous falls. And an ambulance was not immediately called for the man, even though his life was at risk.

HIQA was not informed of either incident, as required by law, and only found out about them during later inspections.

Details of the HSE's failure to follow through on its intention to refuse re-registration of Upton House emerged in court papers seen by the Irish Independent.

The HSE defended the decision not to pursue the matter, stating the executive was about to lose responsibility for nursing home registration and inspection a few months later in July.

HIQA subsequently identified the nursing home as one of 20 around the country that should receive "priority attention" from its inspectors.

According to HSE records, its officials identified a significant number of breaches of regulations at Upton House from 2007 onwards, including concerns over the quality of programmes for patients, the care of high-risk patients, hygiene issues, and training and development of staff.

The HSE said no action had been taken by Ms Flanagan to address many of these issues.

Similar problems were identified by HIQA. An affidavit by HIQA chief inspector Marion Witton, which chronicled 13 months of the history of the nursing home, also stated the home had failed to comply with requirements made during inspections.

In response, Ms Flanagan claimed she had become involved in a "bitter dispute" with the HSE and was later "secretly blacklisted by HIQA".

The second claim she later withdrew. Judge Gerard Haughton said HIQA had "good reason" to prioritise checks on Upton House.

He said Ms Flanagan had "failed miserably to address many of the issues raised both by the HSE and HIQA over a protracted period of time".

The judge also stated he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Flanagan was not fit to run or manage a nursing home. "Any provider who falls below acceptable standards and persistently resists the regulator's requests to raise those standards appropriately must bear the consequences," he said.

Ms Flanagan has previously taken legal steps to prevent the Irish Independent publishing details of seven separate investigations into complaints at the nursing home between late 2007 and mid-2009.

Earlier this year she lodged a High Court action against the Office of the Information Commissioner, which ruled the reports could be released to this newspaper by the HSE.

Irish Independent

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