Thursday 19 April 2018

Living life on their own terms - how supported living services have transformed Tanya and Paddy's lives

Our reporter meets two people who are benefitting from supported living services, which they say have transformed their lives for the better

Paddy Lyons in his new two-storey assisted living space in Montenotte, in Co Cork. Photo: Gerard McCarthy
Paddy Lyons in his new two-storey assisted living space in Montenotte, in Co Cork. Photo: Gerard McCarthy

Áilín Quinlan

Tanya and Paddy have recently moved house. Nothing exceptional about that, except that for each of them, the move was from a large residential centre to a small home within the community - and it's utterly transformed their worlds.

Tanya and Paddy now live completely different lives than their previous ones, as a result of a programme of large-scale reform of the disability services, and through joint partnerships between the HSE and organisations such as charitable bodies and local authorities.

Tanya moved last year from the Good Counsel Centre in Ballyboden, an environment she shared for 15 years with a group of people with intellectual disability. She now lives in her own small house, which she received from the county council in south Dublin.

Through a partnership between the HSE and Cope Foundation, Paddy Lyons moved from Grove House in Cork, a residential centre for people with intellectual disabilities and challenging behaviour, where he had lived since 1993. Grove House is closed now, and Paddy lives in a comfortable home in the leafy suburb of Montenotte, which he shares with two other men.

Tanya (41), who has a mild learning disability, had been in institutional care for much of her late teen and adult life. For her, the move to her one-bedroomed bungalow in Crumlin was life-changing - she organised her own lease, rent support and furnishing with the help of the community welfare officer, and received the key to her own front door for the first time in her life in April, 2015.

"The Good Counsel Centre in Ballyboden was residential accommodation with a large number of people," she says.

"There were meals in the dining room and everything was looked after - the food was cooked for you, your laundry was done and you shared the toilet and shower facilities."

About four years ago however, Tanya started thinking about living independently. She voiced her thoughts to key care workers, whose response was positive.

"I said that I'd like to live in my own place and have my own independence. They came back to me and said there was a place."

The process took about three years to complete, but Tanya eventually got her house - she moved in on April 17, 2015, two days before her 40th birthday.

She's very happy and is seeking a voluntary part-time job.

Life is so very different now: "I like having my own key to the door and coming in and going out as I please. I like having people over and being a hostess in my own home.

"I have more freedom and I can come and go as I please. I have support staff who come to me in the evening - we go out for walks together," she says, adding that she recently joined Slimming World in Crumlin village and has lost more than a stone in weight.

"I've made a lot of friends in the area - people here are really nice and very friendly and I find I make friends easily."

Paddy Lyons, meanwhile, likes to think that if his mam could see him now, she'd be happy.

Now aged 79, in 2013 Paddy moved out of Grove House, where he had lived for 20 years, to a semi-detached two-storey house owned by the Cope Foundation at Springfort Crescent, Montenotte.

Paddy, who has an intellectual disability and limited communication, also suffers from a number of health issues, including diabetes type two.

He has 24-hour medical care in his new life, as a nurse is on duty in the house at all times. However, Paddy is still quite independent - he does his own laundry and makes his bed.

"Paddy needs that kind of support. His life is relaxed and very normal," says clinical nurse manager Paul McKeown, who oversaw Paddy's transition from Grove House and continues to give him support to this day.

"Paddy would have shared the residence with a group of about 24 people, and maybe got a bit lost in the group. He gets lots of attention and support in Springfort Crescent," says McKeown.

"I like living here - I love it - I love making new friends and going out, going bowling and going to the pub and going to mass," Paddy explains. It's a very different set-up to the formal surrounds of an institution like Grove House.

"He is very happy and friendly with the neighbours and enjoys the staff and the interaction with them - and he can maintain relationships from his side, in that he is no longer dependent on people coming to see him. He has more connections with people in his life from the past, both in terms of family and friendships, now that he lives in the community," says McKeown.

"For those who work with him, it's a privilege to be involved with Paddy. It's a very positive experience for him to have a house that he calls home.

"His quality of life has much improved. He has more choice, more freedom, more scope and is supported in everything he wants to do."

Both moves, and those of many other people living in institutionalised care, came about as part of an initiative to support people with disability to live in their local community, says Deirdre Scully, programme manager for the Transforming Lives Programme, which implements the 2012 Value for Money Report on the Disability Sector in Ireland.

It effectively means moving people away from the large institutions or residential settings.

The key to the programme is personal choice.

HSE and disability service providers work with individuals and their families to identify how they wish to be supported, in relation to where they'd like to live, who they'd like to live with and the activities in which they'd like to be involved.

Detailed individual plans are developed well in advance of the move to ensure the person is fully supported in all elements of their new lives.

According to Scully, accommodation generally takes the form of ordinary houses and apartments in housing estates and towns, which are shared by up to four people.

By now, some 1,000 men and women around the country, aged from 23 to about 80, have moved from large institutions to more intimate community environments.

Over the next five years, another 2,700 people are scheduled to make the move into local communities.

Health & Living

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life