Severely disabled residents are being locked up on their own, undernourished and subjected to hitting and biting every day, a shocking official report into a home has found.
The State's healthcare watchdog said 16 people suffering complex mental and physical conditions at the St John of God centre in Drumcar, Co Louth, are also threatened with unsafe use of medication and infection.
Dirty showers and food kitchen areas are also among a raft of damning findings by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) after a surprise inspection of the home in April this year.
The watchdog said it could not find who was actually in charge of the centre, which was so short-staffed and badly-run it was robbing severely disabled residents of their dignity and their rights.
Hiqa has accused the centre of "major" failures in nine out of ten areas inspected.
During the inspection, it was found a lack of staff meant residents did not get the help they needed with eating and drinking at mealtimes.
Meals themselves were "rushed and institutional" and some of the residents were forced to sit and watch others eating while they had to wait to be served at a "second sitting".
"Inspectors also found that a number of residents had documented low body weights," the report says.
Poor records at the home meant it was hard to make a proper finding on the weight loss, but inspectors noted a lack of food supplies, limited choices and little evidence that individual nutritional needs were being met.
There was no appropriate action taken when one resident lost more than 5% of their body weight, it was found.
Incidents of injury and harm between residents, including hitting out and biting, occur "on an almost daily basis" under the watch of staff, the watchdog reported.
Despite this there were no measures such as alternative accommodation arrangements or behavioural analysis carried out to prevent it.
"There were inadequate measures in place to protect residents from being harmed or suffering abuse," the report states.
Nor are there proper measures to ensure allegations, disclosures or suspected incidents of abuse were correctly responded to, it found.
In one incident of an alleged physical assault by a non-permanent staff member on a resident, there were delays in taking the right actions and safeguards, including contacting the gardai.
Kitchenettes used for resident food preparation and showers used by residents are "unclean".
One resident had a contagious infection, but was allowed share a room with another disabled resident who had a wound.
Inspectors also said they were "not assured" residents could be evacuated to safety during an emergency at night because of lack of a staff and the complexity of the residents' needs.
Despite four of the residents suffering regular epileptic seizures, staff are not properly guided on who to care for and deal with the fits or in the administration of medication to help control the condition.
"The emergency management of seizures was also compromised by unsafe medication practices," the watchdog found.
Hiqa damned "ineffective" management at the home - run by Hospitallier Ministries Headquarters in Stillorgan, Dublin and local managers in Co Louth - for a failure to protect residents.
"It was not clear who had responsibility for the day to day management of the campus," it said.
Colm Keaveney, Fianna Fail's disability spokesman, accused Disabilities Minister Kathleen Lynch of a complete failure of leadership.
"I am appalled to learn that staff shortages led to residents being locked up alone in a unit on a number of occasions," he said. "This should not be acceptable in a civilised society."
Mr Keaveney said the country was facing a crisis in the provision of disability services. "Findings of ineffective leadership and inadequate staffing must be acted upon," he added.
The latest revelations follow a report yesterday which found a resident at a care home for severe and profoundly disabled people in Co Sligo was restrained with a sedative-type drug 13 times in just a few months.
Hiqa said the case raised serious concerns about the use and oversight of medications and what it called "chemical restraint" at Cregg House, a home for more than 100 adults and children.