Wednesday 19 June 2019

Closure of RehabCare services would be 'devastating' for family

Bray couple says services are vital for families and that everything should be done to ensure they remain in place to support people, writes Brendan Keane

Rosemary O’Connor, her daughter, Jennifer, and husband Tom
Rosemary O’Connor, her daughter, Jennifer, and husband Tom

A couple from Bray have said the closure of the RehabCare centre in the town would have a devastating on them.

Rosemary O'Connor's daughter, Jennifer, attends the Lear Ar Aghaidh centre, and along with her husband Tom, Jennifer's step-dad, she says any move to close the facility would be a disaster.

Her comments came in the wake of Rehab Group announcing its intention to give 12 months notice that it plans to terminate its 147 RehabCare services in 117 locations around the country.

Crunch talks on the matter are due to take place this evening (Wednesday, May 15) between RehabCare, the HSE, Minister Simon Harris and Minister Finian McGrath.

The two ministers intervened following Rehab's announcement about the planned cessation of services.

Ms O'Connor said Jennifer (25), contracted meningitis when she was three months old and that led to her developing cerebral palsy, epilepsy and an intellectual disability.

However, Rosemary and Tom are full of praise for the work of the services provided at the Lear Ar Aghaidh centre which, they say, changed their lives.

'Jennifer has been going to the Lear Ar Aghaidh service for five years after leaving the local Enable Ireland school,' said Rosemary.

'We were looking at various options for her as she entered adulthood and Lear Ar Aghaidh was our preference,' she added.

'We were lucky that she got a place there.'

Rosemary said her daughter settled in very well to the centre and became more aware and stimulated.

She said Jennifer has made progress socially, emotionally, mentally and verbally over the last five years.

'It's just a small example but she used to have no patience and wasn't really aware of other people,' said Rosemary.

'If we were ever eating out, even in McDonald's, if she finished her meal first, we had to go or there would be a meltdown,' she added.

However, during her time in the centre Jennifer has learned to wait and that has been a positive change for the family: 'It means that we're able to bring her more places.'

'By going on outings with RehabCare to the Bord Gais Theatre or cinema she has learned she has to wait for other people and that's carried over into home life,' said Rosemary.

'It's a lot more comfortable with far fewer meltdowns; she still has them but not as often. We find it a lot easier to bring her out [and] it's eased the pressure at home.'

At present RehabCare delivers services to 3,000 people with disabilities throughout Ireland including 1,600 day services for adults, some of whom, like Jennifer have very complex needs.

This week's talks come in the wake of a long battle by Rehab Group to retain its RehabCare services which are under threat due to funding issues.

In Co Wicklow, 41 vulnerable adults who are in need of extra supports from RehabCare resources could be affected if the withdrawal of services takes place.

As well as Lean Aghaidh Day Service, which is for people with profound disabilities, other services in Wicklow include: Bray Resource Centre, for people aged 30 and over who have mild intellectual disabilities (including autism and asperger's syndrome) and mental health issues, and Phoenix Resource Centre, which offers a vital service to younger people with a dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and mental ill health.

Rosemary said much of the positive changes in Jennifer are attributable to the person-centred approach of RehabCare.

'This means Jennifer is offered choices and her decisions listened to, something she has responded to positively,' said Rosemary.

'She is a lot more communicative because she's treated as an adult, she is given choices and her choices are enacted,' she added.

'If she wants to stop an activity and do something different that's what happens; she isn't very verbal but she is very much empowered.'

Communication was at the root of Jennifer's emotional and social issues and as a result her frustration manifested itself in temper tantrums.

'She was always good with carers but she came home a meltdown would start,' said Rosemary.

'It was upsetting for the whole household as I would have to tell her young brothers to run out of the room,' she added.

However, Jennifer can now use more words and signs and is understood better because the staff take time to understand her.

Rosemary also said that a significant aspect of the approach taken by people who use the service is that they refer to it as 'work'.

'Every morning, even on holidays, Jennifer makes the sign to us to ask "am I going to work today?"' said Rosemary.

'She loves it so much, she loves everything there; there hasn't been a day she hasn't enjoyed herself,' she added.

Jennifer is the only girl in her group, which caters for adults with high-level needs, but she joins in the ladies group where she paints her nails, does her make up and has a coffee.

Such is the strong bond between Rosemary and Tom, and the staff in the centre, that one member even accompanied the family on a trip to the dentist to help allay Jennifer's anxieties.

'That trip to the dentist made a huge difference to us,' said Rosemary.

'She doesn't like the dentist [or] doctor and usually won't cooperate at all with the examination,' she added.

'This time Jennifer didn't play up with the care worker [and] after the X-ray she actually settled down very quickly.'

Rosemary went on to comment: 'These extras that are part of the service just mean so much to us.'

With the talks imminent the couple are hopeful of a positive outcome, however, they say if anything happens to the service it will have a very negative affect on their family: 'She takes quite some time to adapt to change and she would miss the service terribly. We'd all be devastated, the service is so good, we would be totally at a loss without it.'

Bray People