Friday 23 August 2019

Shoddy controls on cash exposed at nursing home

Envelopes with residents' money found in safe with no record of who owned them - and questions also raised over donations

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Cash and other valuables belonging to residents of a public nursing home were at risk of going missing because of weak financial controls.

Auditors for the Health Service Executive (HSE) found envelopes of cash in a safe at the home, with nothing to indicate who owned the money or the sums they contained, nor was there any register listing which residents had handed over belongings for safekeeping.

Other envelopes that did identify the resident were found to be empty.

The auditors' report raises concerns over the safeguards in place to protect residents' private property in public nursing homes. The HSE-run nursing home was not named in the auditors' report but is in the south east.

However, in a statement this weekend, the HSE said "no impropriety" had been established. "However, the HSE wishes to assure the public that corrective steps were undertaken to address all issues," the statement added.

The audit report, which was completed last September, said there was "a risk" that if clients died or were discharged their property might not be appropriately identified and returned.

Nor were auditors happy that the envelopes of cash were kept in the safe alongside the property of deceased residents and fundraising donations.

In one case, a client who died in 2012 had left a balance of €5,000 in their client account. Auditors who visited last year found no evidence on file of any correspondence from the home about transferring these funds to the client's estate.

In another case, cash refunded by a local department store to a resident was still sitting in the safe a year later. The money should have been lodged in the resident's account. The client had died by the time of the audit, and the cash had yet to be refunded to the relevant legal personal representative or executor.

Auditors also discovered more than €7,000 in "an unofficial HSE bank account" last year. They found the account when they came across a bank statement in the hospital's files, with the account name 'Matron'. Local management and staff said they were unaware of the account, even though the nursing home had bank statements on file. The account, which contained €7,377, has since been closed and its funds transferred to the HSE.

Auditors also query the absence of "clear procedures" over how donations to the home were recorded and logged. In one case, a donation was made to the hospital on foot of a telephone conversation between ward staff and the relatives of a patient who had died at the hospital. There was a note of the telephone call, but no other paperwork to support the donation even though regulations require a written agreement.

The HSE said the "envelopes of cash in the safe" had since been logged and credited to their owners, while funds belonging to the deceased resident had been transferred to the HSE. The money in the bank account was donated for a day centre service.

The Irish Patients' Association said the auditors' findings were "worrying" and "disappointing". Chairman Stephen McMahon said they raised serious concerns for residents who were vulnerable and entrusted their belongings to the nursing home.

Sunday Independent

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