'I never thought I would face selling my farm to pay for my wife's nursing home bills'
When Joe Carroll’s wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few years ago, the family never thought they might have to sell their farm to pay nursing home bills.
Today Joe is protesting outside the Department of Health with the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) to highlight what he says is a huge injustice to farmers in the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.
“I’ve always paid my bills. More than that, when we had good years milking cows, I made sure to have some savings. They were to help my other two children, the ones not getting the farm.”
Now, the Offaly farmer says none of his children will be left with much as his life savings are whittling away as he pays thousands of euros every month in nursing home bills for his wife.
Jane was diagnosed with MS in 2013 and Joe tried to look after her at home, but the burden got too much and four years ago the family made the decision she would be better off in a nursing home receiving full-time care. “The home help offered amounted to a half hour, two or three mornings a week. It wasn’t enough to do anything,” according to Joe.
Now Joe is paying over €20,000 a year in nursing homes fees and says his savings will soon be gone. “Then we face a sign being put up outside the farm to pay the fees,” he said.
Under the Fair Deal Scheme the State can only claim 22.5pc of the value of the family home, under a three-year cap on the asset. However, farm families and small businesses owners face 7.5pc of the value of their land being used annually to pay nursing home fees. There is no cap on this, meaning an entire farm could have to be sold to pay the bills.
It had been expected that legislation would be changed in the last Budget, but farm families are still waiting.
Unless legislation is changed soon to allow a three-year cap on farm assets, Joe says there may not be a farm to leave his son as promised.
“I was saving my whole life on the farm and for the family. There was not that much savings and it is just dwindling away and now there may be no farm left either.”
After surviving prostate cancer 13 years ago, Joe had to give up dairy farming and rely on a drystock income on the 70 acre farm outside Kilcormac. But this, he says, is not enough to pay all the bills.
The stress on Joe over the years has seen his health deteriorate. He recently ended up in hospital after he felt tightness in his chest while checking his stock on the farm.
“I was out checking the bulls and the tightness in my chest meant I had to stop walking.” After going to the doctor, he ended up in hospital getting a stent fitted and he faces a knee operation in a couple of weeks.
“Finance is terribly stressful but you have to be positive. I couldn’t manage without the kindness of others – the local vet, agri-merchants and contractors are always waiting to be paid. They know I have to keep the funds handy every month to pay the nursing home bills.
“I’ve always been able to pay. Now I’m dependent on the generosity of others, but that debt is always in the background.”
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