Further isolation for the deaf if services are relocated
The future for deaf people in the Sligo, Leitrim and West Cavan areas is 'very bleak' because of the possible relocation of deaf services to Letterkenny.
According to Catherine Carroll, a woman who is deaf and is a service user at Sligo's DeafHear service, formally known as Chime, the possible relocation means the further isolation of deaf people.
Catherine spoke to The Sligo Champion in reply to a recent article carried, which outlined uncertainty of the current service remaining in the town.
A spokesperson for DeafHear (Chime) said that due to a gap in funding the organisation was currently in negotiations with the HSE who fund the service, in relation to a possible relocation.
Ms Carroll has said she does not believe the organisation is being honest with service users and said people need to protest.
"It's not honest, we need Mark [Byrne, CEO DeafHear] to come and have a meeting with everyone and explain. We need someone face-to-face and get answers," said Catherine, who believes a move will lead to further isolation for people.
"One of the biggest issues for people is mental health, they're isolated. You can't imagine if services are moved. I don't know if it's true if the office is changing or moving, but how can deaf people communicate if they come to a service and need advice."
Ms Carroll stressed the need for deaf people to have communication and access to services.
"They live in fear, they live alone, with sometimes no communication for a long time. It's very important to have communication."
Catherine said it wasn't possible for people who need advice with writing CVs, letters explained to them or other advice, to go to Letterkenny for this.
When asked if she believed that a two day service in Sligo would impact service users, Catherine said 'of course'.
"There must be equal access Monday to Friday not cut or not a lesser kind of service. Letterkenny have a five-day service while we have a two-day service currently. Are people going to be let go here?"
Ms Carroll said it was 'very upsetting' that the service may be moved. "I have three deaf brothers and I know loads of deaf people. Why would the service be moving to Donegal, it makes no sense to me. Some deaf people are shocked, but the thing is they're not clear about what's going on and why it could be moved."
She added, "A lot of people face isolation, and they come to the office for some communication, help, sending emails, get information translated and more. There's no other supports here."
The sign language teacher said she did not want to see deaf people left out and highlighted that Sligo has a better transport service than Donegal and therefore if services were to be moved it should be the other way around. Along with this, Ms Carroll was critical of a third DeafHear centre being opened in Dublin while other centres are being closed or amalgamated.
"There's two centres in Dublin and a new one opening, they have the Luas, the trains, bus service, but in Sligo we haven't got that level of transport but yet they're opening a new office in Dublin. I thought they could open one office in that area, but closing one down here. More resources up there and less down here, it doesn't make any sense."
Highlighting the importance of the service, Ms Carroll said it wasn't just advice that people could avail of, but also purchasing bells and vibrating alert systems among others.
Asked what she would say to DeafHear spokespeople who maintain that services would be improved if moved to Letterkenny, Ms Carroll said: "I would completely object that claim.
"I have a right to ask how many people are coming to this service and I'm sure they [DeafHear staff] have a diary that's very busy with deaf people coming in to the offices here. If it moved to Letterkenny you'd be forcing people to move to Letterkenny, it's impossible to do it."
Ms Carroll believes that the uncertainty is hindering users from accessing the current service.
"I feel we're being left behind and I feel there's an awful lot happening behind our backs that we're not being made aware of. You've to really try and push people to get them engaged and when they don't know what's going on and it's confusing, it's just puts them off."
Referring to the newspaper article where it was indicated by a DeafHear spokesperson that the organisation was in discussion with the HSE, Ms Carroll said she felt the orgranisation was 'twisting the point'.
"It's not as if the HSE can be dictated to by DeafHear. I think you should sit everybody down and sit with all the deaf people have an open public forum with Mark there and people responsible there for managing the situation."
Catherine said: "We've no idea what is going on. We don't know how the funding is worked, how the system works. I think any funding allocated to Sligo should be coming to a centre based here in Sligo."
She believes that the ongoing uncertainty has broken the trust of deaf people in the DeafHear service
"My huge fear in the future is isolated people will lose their communication skills and lose access to help. I'm really worried about the future. It's almost black, the future, very bleak future."
In a response to this paper regarding the current status of the Sligo service the HSE stated, "The Physical and Sensory Disability Service, Sligo/Leitrim are currently in negotiations regarding future provision and funding of DeafHear Services in the Sligo/Leitrim area. To date negotiations have not yet been finalised. Deafhear have not as yet formally notified local HSE of the change of Deaf Hear service name to "Chime"."