WHILE the immediate threat to Crozier House has been lifted the situation is by no means clear with residential homes still facing a shake-up under Department of Health proposals.
At the Banbridge home last week the mood was sombre and sincere but it didn’t stop 93 year-old Gerald Uprichard from cracking a joke or two, with his equally good-humoured big brother, Harry (94) ever ready to chip in.
The former Lurgan man and past secretary of Glenavon Football Club had good reason to be cheerful though, as he was about to celebrate his birthday and was looking forward to a birthday cake and a bit of a knees-up with his friends in Crozier House residential home in Banbridge.
But birthdays aside, dark clouds were still on the horizon and Gerald and Harry and their friends are worried about the future - something you shouldn’t really have to be concerned about when you are in your 80s or 90s and settled in a home where you feel almost like part of the furniture.
And that is the crux of the problem currently facing the 27 residents at Crozier House - which could still be facing closure despite a Ministerial u-turn last week - they feel that a close-knit family could be broken up and scattered to the four winds.
“I just can’t understand the proposal to close these homes and put us all out to private enterprise which will be motivated by profit,” said Gerald, who along with his brother was one of the recent ‘evacuees’ from Skeagh House when the landslide behind the home forced residents and staff to flee in an emergency evacuation procedure.
“I can’t fathom who is behind it and if finance or politics are involved, but you have to take things in your stride at this age and you need to keep a sense of humour. Laughter is always the best medicine.”
Ironically, the Dromore facility which was Gerald and Harry’s former home could also be earmarked for closure, leaving the brothers and six other ‘evacuees’ currently being accommodated at Crozier House having to contemplate packing up their belongings for a second time.
“We are so well looked after here and it would be a disaster if Crozier House closes,” Gerald adds. “I think something should be done to save both homes which have provided such a first-class service to the community over many years.
“There is a real sense of homeliness here and it is a ‘home’ in the real sense of the word - it is our home.”
In addition to their own concerns, residents also carry a burden for members of staff at Crozier House which opened in 1970 and where employees pride themselves on their strong bonds of trust and friendship with those they care for.
Manager Iris Cromie said it was touching that despite individual worries about their own living accommodation, residents had voiced fears for staff jobs.
“I have worked in residential care at Skeagh House for 34 years and over that time you develop real friendships with the residents,” she said. “You get to know them on a personal basis, so since this news broke we have been very aware of how important it is to be truthful about the situation as we know it, but also to make residents feel reassured that nothing will happen overnight.”
Over the past week it has taken all Iris’s skills in reassuring some of the more nervous residents who have been asking for answers - residents like 97 year-old Elizabeth Clyde who has been happy to call Crozier House her home for nearly two years.
It was a huge undertaking for the Banbridge woman to give up her independence and move into residential care in the first place and now she is upset at the possibility of being taken away from the friends she has made over that time.
“I couldn’t look after myself in my own home, so I was nervous about coming here,” she says, “but it has been a lovely experience. The staff are so good and if you ring any time, they come to you and don’t keep you hanging about like in some other places.
“My fear is missing my new friends here - if we are scattered about, we won’t see each other again. I know I need to content myself, but it is all very unsettling.”
Her friend, Mary Woods (89) voices the apprehension of others when she wonders about the convenience for relatives visiting family members in any new care setting in the future.
“I am terribly worried about that,” she confides. “I just hope that wherever we have to go, it will be convenient for our loved ones. It would be such a pity if Crozier House has to close.”
That hasn’t happened yet, of course, with Health Minister Edwin Poots stepping in on Friday taking the future of the homes out of Trust hands. What hasn’t changed is the policy calling for the closure of half of Northern Ireland’s residential care homes..
That is some small comfort at least to Gerald, Harry, Elizabeth and Mary and their friends who are keen that their voices are heard above the din emanating from politicans and health officials. They want everyone to be made aware of one simple but heartfelt message: they just want to live in the place they call ‘home’.